campaigners fight for worried restaurant owners’ votes
by Sav D’ Souza
OWNERS of Britain’s 12,000 curry houses are being courted by MPs ahead of the June 23 referendum on the uK’s membership of the European union, as campaigners argue over the impact of immigration rules on hiring talented chefs.
The Bangladesh Caterers Association, an industry body, claims four to five curry houses a week are closing in Britain because of a shortage of staff
Vote Leave campaigner and the prime minister’s India diaspora champion Priti Patel last month launched a “Save Our Curry Houses” campaign, blaming EU migration for the industry crisis
Patel said: “Uncontrolled immigration from the EU has led to tougher controls on migrants from the rest of the world. This means that we cannot bring in the talents and the skills we need to support our economy while we remain tied into the EU.
“Curry houses are being hit particularly hard as they are finding it more difficult to bring in experienced chefs to cook great dishes and train the next generation of chefs. Our curry houses are becoming the victims of the EU’s uncontrolled immigration rules.”
She added: “By voting to leave the EU, we can take back control of our im- migration policies, save our curry houses and join the rest of the world.”
Fellow Brexit campaigner Iain Duncan Smith MP said: “This is a serious issue. There are 600 curry restaurants closing down because owners can’t get the right skilled workers to come in.”
His sentiments were echoed by some from the industry. Pasha Khandaker, president of the Bangladesh Caterers Association, said: “The curry industry is dying for the skilled workers. About four to five restaurants are closing every week. The industry is in a very dan- gerous position. We have been lobbying government for skilled chefs for a long time. They are not listening.”
Pro-EU Labour MP and chairman of the Home Affairs Select Committee Keith Vaz said Vote Leave was making EU migrants a “scapegoat” for more complex problems in the curry indus- try, saying it was trying to “play people off against each other”
He added: “Curry has become a core part of British cooking and a powerful symbol of our diverse and tolerant so- ciety, one that welcomes those who work hard, pay taxes and contribute .
“I was furious to see the Leave Campaign’s claims that leaving the EU and shutting the door on immigrants from Poland and elsewhere would save Brit- ain’s curry houses.”
James McGrory, chief spokesman for the official “Remain” campaign, said the initiative was “a smokescreen to try and hoodwink people into voting for them”. “They do not have the interests of people from the Indian subconti- nent at heart,” he said.
Under current rules, the Home Office has set a salary threshold of £29,750 for hiring chefs from outside the EU, a much higher than the average salary for cooks in curry houses.
Saiful Alam, who runs the Prince of Bengal, a modest restaurant in Wat- ford, recently hired a Romanian cook.
Alam has British staff and eastern European employees, but complained about “the language barrier and the experience – they’re not familiar with the food, the cooking, the spices”.
Meanwhile, the Asian Catering Foundation (ACF), which represents 20,000 restaurant and takeaway owners across the country, has called for its members to back Britain staying in the EU
Seema Malhotra MP, Labour’s shadow chief secretary to the Treasury, said: “With an estimated million lost jobs, that will mean fewer customers for curry houses and many businesses. It’s clearly a risk we should not take.”