Rt Hon Lord Lilley

    Lord Lilley:

    Can the noble Lord tell us more about this EU-India free trade agreement, which I do not think exists?

    Lord Bilimoria:

    The EU-India free trade agreement is what has been tried to be negotiated for over 10 years now.

    Lord Lilley:

    But it does not exist.

    Lord Bilimoria:

    We have been trying to do it for over a decade.

    Let us look at the irony of when we joined the EU 46 years ago. The Daily Mail celebrated by saying: “Now we can lead Europe!” The Sun spoke of,

    “an unrepeatable opportunity for a nation that lost an empire to gain a continent”.

    How things have changed.

    Before concluding, I would like to touch on the Memorial Gates at Constitution Hill, the trust on which I have the privilege of chairing. We celebrate the contribution of 5 million volunteers from predominantly the Commonwealth countries to the first and second world wars. The contribution of these individuals was extraordinary and we need to acknowledge that without it we would not have our freedom today. Yet The Royal British Legion says that the treatment of Commonwealth veterans is atrocious. Hundreds of Commonwealth military veterans, who risked their lives serving in the UK Armed Forces, face spiralling debts, being forced to pay “exorbitant” visa fees to remain in the country after their discharge. The fees have gone up by 127% in five years. Since their introduction in 2003, the fees have risen by 1,441%. If the veterans cannot pay, they face deportation. That is awful considering that, looking ahead, we want to recruit more members from the Commonwealth because of recruitment shortages at the moment.

    We have huge and wonderful opportunities with the Commonwealth, but they are not instead of the relationship with the European Union. I conclude with Her Majesty the Queen’s Commonwealth Day message, where she said that,

    “many millions of people around the world are drawn together because of the collective values shared by the Commonwealth … We are able to look to the future with greater confidence and optimism as a result of the links that we share, and thanks to the networks of co-operation and mutual support to which we contribute, and on which we draw”.

    In the words of the Booker prize-winning author Ben Okri, as inscribed on the Memorial Gates:

    “Our future is greater than our past”.

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