British Indian values guide me: Rishi Sunak takes trip down memory lane at UK-India Awards

British Indian values guide me: Rishi Sunak takes trip down memory lane at UK-India Awards

UK Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak brought the India Global Forum (IGF) UK-India Week 2022 to a resounding close with a rousing speech about his family heritage, values of hard work and his vision for the future of the UK-India partnership.

Here are some highlight excerpts from his speech as Guest of Honour at the glittering UK-India Awards at Fairmont Windsor Park, near London, last week…

All of us have our own stories about how we got to where we are now. I want to tell you mine. To explain a bit about what guides me in my life and politics.

And this is the right place to tell that story because it’s our story. The British Indian story.

The story of a generation of people who brought to this country a shared set of values: hard work and sacrifice, the importance of family, education, and service to our community.

Values that don’t just underpin our shared history – but point the way to how we might reimagine the UK-India relationship, for the future.

My story starts nearly a lifetime ago, when my grandmother said goodbye to her small children, boarded a plane in East Africa, and, without a job or a home to go to, flew to Britain to build a better life. I can’t imagine the courage that must have taken. It took them months to save enough for my grandfather to follow with their children – including my fifteen-year-old mother.

Years later, I brought my grandfather to Parliament, just after I was first elected. We were walking through Westminster Hall when he suddenly stopped to call someone. After he got off the call, he told me he’d spoken to the first person they’d ever lodged with when they arrived in England. Because, he said: “I just wanted to let them know where I’m standing right now”.

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Childhood

I didn’t grow up in a wealthy family. My overriding memory of childhood is how hard my parents worked.

Dad was an NHS GP – and worked extra jobs, evenings, and weekends. Almost every night of my childhood, he worked until the early hours, writing up patient notes and referral letters.

Mum owned a pharmacy – Sunak Pharmacy. Our life was built around the business. Out of school, I’d serve customers or do deliveries; help dispense medicines; do the bookkeeping. And every Sunday we’d pile into the car to clean the shop, all of us together, the whole family. It was a family business – that’s just what you do.

They worked hard because they had to. Because they wanted to give my siblings and I the chance of a better life. Above all, that meant education. I had the privilege of going to an incredible school. But I wasn’t a scholarship child. Every penny was paid for by their sacrifice. I don’t know if I can ever thank them enough.

So I learnt early on that family matters. Families nurture our children and teach them good conduct; support us, unconditionally; pass on culture, religion, identity. No government could even begin to replicate the profound bonds family forms.

And like so many British Indian families, of all faiths, we came together to serve the community. And still do. This Sunday, I’ll be at the Mandir in Southampton, where I grew up, for our family prayer day. We’ll cook and serve lunch for the whole community, just as we do every year.

Because that’s the lesson I learnt from my parents. An ethic of service. Whether working in the shop, or delivering medicines to elderly people at home, or even just out and about in town, people would stop and thank my Mum and Dad. I found that incredibly inspiring. And ultimately that’s why I became an MP. I want to have the same impact on my North Yorkshire constituency as they did on our hometown.

So, that’s my story. A story of hard work. Sacrifice. Education. Family. Service. Those are the values I learnt from my parents. Values that still guide me today.

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Living bridge

My story, my family’s story, is really our story. The story of the 1.5 million British Indian people…

And those stories are only possible because of the people who came before us, including many of you in this room. My generation owes you a debt of gratitude. And every day I’m in this job I will work hard to make you proud. Because I know I have a responsibility to represent not just my family’s hopes and dreams but the hopes and dreams of an entire diaspora. So, I want to take this opportunity to thank my parents, but also the countless others whose struggle broke down the door for my generation to walk through – thank you.

Those values don’t just define our past. They point the way to our future. Because ultimately, however strong our shared history, those of us who care about the relationship between our country of origin and the nation we call home must avoid falling into the trap of nostalgia. India isn’t looking to the past. And nor can we. We need to move forward.

Because the UK does not have a natural right to sit at the table with one of the world’s largest, fastest growing, and most dynamic economies. We must earn it. Right now, there are something like 900 million Indian people under the age of 35. They are smart. They are increasingly well-educated. They are ambitious. And when they look out at the world, we can’t take for granted that they will look to the UK.

Reimagine@75

So, the question is urgent: How do we reimagine the UK-India relationship? Let me briefly tell you three things we’re doing – three ways we’re building our future as a partnership of equals.

First, people.

The UK is making our visa system for international talent the most competitive in the world.

New policies like the Global Talent Visa should send a message to the brightest Indian talent: We want you here. You will be welcome here. And we will back you to succeed here.

For the UK, high talent immigration is absolutely core to how we view ourselves as a country, especially in a post-Brexit world.

As the child and grandchild of immigrants, I can testify to the openness, fairness, and, yes, warmth, with which British society welcomes talented individuals who seek to contribute to our society and become a part of our communities.

As tonight makes clear, you will be joining a vibrant, respected, and successful Indian community.

So, if you want to build great businesses, undertake great science or create great art, the UK will be the be most rewarding karma bhoomi you will find.

But the UK doesn’t have a monopoly on opportunity.

Too much of the migration conversation is about how many Indians come to the UK.

This is a partnership of equals, so we need to make it easier for British students to study in India.

To go to incredible institutions like the Indian Institute of Science or the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research…

So that’s the way forward; that’s how I imagine the future of UK-India relations.

A relationship rooted in those enduring values of hard work, sacrifice, education, family, and service. But a relationship reimagined.

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Road ahead

60 years after my Naniji boarded a plane in East Africa, on a warm sunny evening in October, her great-grandaughters, my kids, played in the street outside our home, painted Rangoli on the doorstep, lit sparklers and diyas; had fun like so many other families on Diwali. Except the street was Downing Street and the door was the door to No. 11.

I’m incredibly proud of where I come from. It will always be an enormous part of who I am. And it brings me joy to live, and belong, in a country where, for all our faults, for all our challenges, someone like me can become Chancellor.

Our task now is to make sure that’s not the end of the British-Indian story – but the beginning.

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