By Jonathan Paxton
Big business and immigration; two topics that fire up opposing sides of the political spectrum. The right applaud companies that stimulate private sector growth whilst demonising immigrants who they see as a drain on public services, eager to exploit the welfare state. Meanwhile the left welcome overseas contributions, both financially and culturally, and see large corporations as greedy, tax avoiding monsters taking advantage of hardworking staff.
The truth, as with most things, is somewhere in the middle but Britain’s finances would be in a much more perilous state without the input of foreign investment and businesses founded by immigrants. Whilst the Home Office is sending out the ‘Immigrant Catcher’ vans rounding up and stigmatising anyone not deemed British enough, let’s take a moment to consider the role immigrants have had on our country. The NHS would fall apart without the contribution of overseas doctors and nurses and people from immigrant backgrounds have set up and run their own business for many years, yet the Pakistani corner shop owner or Polish builder is often seen as a comic stereotype.
Take the case of Sukhpal Singh Ahluwalia, placed equal 9th with Duncan Bannatyne in a list if Britain’s top entrepreneurs in 2011. An Asian refugee whose family fled Idi Amin’s Uganda, he arrived in Britain aged 13 and developed an interest in business and trading. In 1978 he borrowed £5000 to buy a car parts shop in London, a business that he built into a chain of stores across the country, selling the company for £225 million in 2011. Had Britain closed its doors in the 1970s to people fleeing a brutal regime in fear of their lives, he would not have had the opportunity to create jobs, revenue and prosperity from a failing business in a poor area of the capital.
What about Lord Bilimoria who founded Cobra beer, one of the most high profile Indian born business leaders in Britain today. Having studied accountancy at Cambridge he became one of Britain’s top entrepreneurs, seeing gap in the market for a beer to accompany Indian food he imported beer from India and turned the brand into Britain’s fastest growing beer. A champion for trade with India, he is the first Zoroastrian Parsi to sit in the House of Lords and has accompanied the Prime Minister on trade missions to Asia. That both Bilmoria and Ahluwalia would probably be stopped and their immigration status questioned by Home Office policy seems to have passed Theresa May by.
We of course tend to forget the popular and successful immigrants, seeing them as ‘one of us’ regardless of appearance. Culturally some of the most profitable and critically successful British films of the last 40 years were made by Merchant Ivory, produced and directed by individuals born in India and America respectively. The Olympics featured numerous British stars from various ethnic backgrounds and the opening and closing ceremonies showed off to the world the musical talents of Emeli Sande, daughter of a Zambian immigrant.
There is of course no greater aid to assimilation in Britain than sporting success. The latest ‘British’ female hope in tennis attracted huge support at Wimbledon with many people unaware that Laura Robson was born and raised in Melbourne and arrived in the UK via Singapore. The England cricket team has been awash with star players from Caribbean, Asian, Australian or South African backgrounds for many years and where would the Premier League (the “Best League In The World”) be without overseas stars and financial backing from Russia, Asia, the Middle East and America?
So, before you start ringing the Home Office to report someone that you feel doesn’t look ‘British’, consider exactly what being ‘British’ means and the important roles immigrants play. Overseas investment creates jobs, stimulates the economy and provides us with goods and services that we take for granted. Don’t forget that a huge proportion of the media perpetuating some of the myths about immigration is owned and controlled by an Australian working from New York with a dubious history, yet Rupert Murdoch is seen as British enough to receive a knighthood and have the ear of numerous Prime Ministers. Of course, as a rich white man, no one would question his suitability to run a business in Britain.
Jonathan Paxton blogs as a guest for Great British Community & Link Up UK
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