Jagtar Singh Gill. General Secretary – Sikh Council UK
12th Vaisakhi House of Commons Speakers Room, 17 April 2018,
Waheguru Ji Ka Khalsa, Waheguru Ji Ki Fateh
We have seen many MP’s and Ministers attend Vaisakhi in Parliament today and I wish to thank them for their continued support on behalf of the Sikh Community and wish you all a happy Vaisakhi – the day the Khalsa was created in 1699 and a nation was born.
When I spoke at this event last year there were no Sikh MP’s, a year on we have the first Turban wearing Sikh and the first Sikh woman as members of parliament. A huge thank you for all those that assisted and ensured Sikh representation in the House of Commons, this is a good start with much more to do to improve Sikh representations in all structures including the House of Lords.
Before I comment on the theme of Brexit and its impact on Sikhs I just wanted to place on record my thanks and appreciation for all those involved in organising this event and in particular the British Sikh Consultative Forum.
Brexit is now one year away. It represents a massive constitutional change for this country and there continues to be significant uncertainty about what it will mean for all of us. A year ago I spoke on this very theme and the only certainty since then is even more uncertainty as we get closer and closer to Brexit.
Brexit is an extraordinary moment in UK economic and political history. This country is used to gradual constitutional change brought about by increments. Brexit, by contrast, has a defined date 29 March 2019 when the UK severs ties with Europe.
Sikhs are an established community with a deep commitment and contribution to every area of UK life, we also know that for Sikhs the legislative and regulatory environment in the UK for observant and practicing Sikhs is perhaps the best of any country in the world.
The Sikh community, as all the citizens of the United Kingdom do face the prospect of being dramatically affected by Brexit. Most of those changes will affect them as citizens of this country rather than as Sikhs but there will be some Sikh specific challenges that are on the horizon:-
• We know in Europe Sikhs have settled in greater numbers in recent decades and look upon the more established UK Sikh Community for assistance. Therefore, the need to support Sikhs in Europe to ensure Sikh rights are upheld including the wearing of Sikh articles of faith, which we know is becoming more and more difficult in various European countries.
- Continued support by UK and European politicians for Sikhs living, travelling, studying and working in all parts of Europe is essential.
- Eease of movement between the UK and Europe is vital for the well-being of the Sikh community, sustaining a liberal visa regime between the UK and Europe to allow movement of people between the two countries.
Ensuring the hard won and greatly appreciated rights that Sikhs in the UK have covering religious practice and observance including for the five K’s are not adversely effected and that there are no unintended consequences for Sikhs when UK law supersedes European law.
Even though in a statement to MPs, The Brexit secretary David Davis said the Repeal Bill would allow the country to continue operating on the day after the UK leaves the EU “knowing the rules have not changed overnight”. The concern is that laws amended after Brexit may affect Sikhs, so we have to monitor all relevant changes that may take place after Brexit.
Finally we also know there is much that we at Sikh Council UK, with partners across the Sikh community, will need to be doing in the days and months ahead. We will need to be engaged at every level of Brexit discussions and we will need to ensure the voice of the community is heard loud and clear. I remain confident that all Sikh MP’s including our newly elected Sikh MP’s and other parliamentarians will remain receptive to and supportive of the Sikhs and Sikh issues.