British Sikhs divided over Brexit

Britain's Sikh groups are divided on which way to vote in the referendum on June 23 as it emerged on Wednesday that most black and ethnic minority (BME) voters in the country are against Britain's exit from the European Union.

PTI| Updated: Mar 16, 2016, 15:56 PM IST

London: Britain's Sikh groups are divided on which way to vote in the referendum on June 23 as it emerged on Wednesday that most black and ethnic minority (BME) voters in the country are against Britain's exit from the European Union.

The Sikh Federation UK, which is campaigning to remain in the EU, said its survey of 1,000 voters showed that 66 percent wanted to stay, 24 percent to leave and 10 percent were undecided.

However, the Sikh Council UK has decided to stay neutral and indicated that the opinion remains divided among its members.

"We're an aspirational community with a lot of young professionals and many of those are very much in favour of staying in. Those who are less supportive see that EU migration cannot be stopped, but it gets harder to bring a spouse into the country or to get permission for relatives to attend a wedding," a spokesperson said.

A YouGov poll for 'The Times' suggested that 42 percent of BME voters want to remain while 31 per cent support Brexit.

Simon Woolley, of Operation Black Vote (OBV) which campaigns to increase voter registration among ethnic minorities in the UK, believes the answer lies in better engagement from both camps.

"For months we've been excluded from this debate, but it's clear that our votes are up for grabs and could make a difference," he said, warning against a growing anti-EU fervour among BME voters.

"One is a long standing feeling that the European project has been anti-black we've seen the emergence of far-right groups, some of them pretty nasty. Added to that is that many black people feel they're competing for jobs with Eastern Europeans. The two things come together in the feeling among some that the 'EU is really not right for us'," Woolley told the newspaper.

A recent research by the UK's race relations think tank Runnymede Trust concluded that many black and minority ethnic people are "ambivalent about the benefits of the EU".

"They appear less likely to take advantage of free movement (very few move about for work and, arguably, feel less...'shared identity' with others in Europe). Some view Europe in explicitly ethnic or racial terms, identifying Fortress Europe as a way of keeping out non-white immigrants while allowing significant levels of European migration," it said.

While most religious groups in the UK have so far decided to stay neutral ahead of the referendum, the Muslim Council of Britain called for an "informed debate that does not scapegoat minorities".

Champion Priti Patel, a prominent member of the "Vote Leave" parliamentarian camp has been making a strong play for ethnic minority votes.

The 43-year-old said in a speech earlier this week that voting to leave the EU would help Britain "take back control of our borders".

Patel said: "As the Prime Minister's UK-India Diaspora

Champion, I have heard the heartbreaking stories from families up and down the country where relatives from India who they have not seen for years have been unable to come here for a special occasion.

"I have also seen the cases of Kabaddi players struggling to get permission to play in the UK and showcase their sport. Temples and gurdwaras face uphill battles securing visas for priests.

"Students who want to study in the UK some of the brightest and best from around the Commonwealth are being put off. How can it be right that our membership of the EU can lead to, sportsmen, chefs, and students facing restrictions, and families being left divided."

An estimated 615,000 Indian migrants and 1.5 million strong Indian diaspora based in the UK are set to play their part among the over 45 million eligible voters in the referendum.

Indian-origin voters have traditionally connected more with the Opposition Labour party's views, which is in favour of remaining in the EU, but the general elections last May had indicated a strong shift in favour of the ruling Conservative party, which remains divided over which way to go.

That division is being reflected among the Indian-origin voters it would seem.