Curry clash adds masala to ‘Brexit’ debate in United Kingdom
The move has made the ‘clash of curries’ a central theme to the campaign in the lead up to Thursday’s referendum which will decide Britain’s future in the 28-member European Union.
The Bangladesh Caterers Association (BCA) has sided with Patel to call for ‘Brexit’ to “save Britain’s curry industry”, arguing that free movement of people from Europe hampers the industry’s ability to bring in trained chefs from the Indian sub-continent.
“Curry is our national dish but unfortunately four to five curry houses are closing every week. There is a clear double standard in the immigration policy, where we are unable to bring in skilled chefs but thousands are free to come in from Europe,” said Pasha Khandekar, president of the BCA, which represents around 12,000 restaurants and takeaways up and down the UK with their roots in the subcontinent.
However, on the opposing end is the UK’s Asian Catering Federation (ACF) which has been backing the campaign for Britain to remain in the EU, while continuing to lobby the government on staff shortages within the curry industry.
The ACF, which represents a wider network of around 20,000 restaurants by working alongside the Federation of Bangladeshi Caterers UK, the Chinese Takeaway Association UK and the Malaysian Restaurant Association, believes Brexit is not the answer to Britain’s curry woes.
“The ACF recognises the contribution of EU members, especially those from Eastern Europe, who are prepared to undertake demanding work and anti-social hours associated with the hospitality industry,” it said in a statement.
ACF president Yawar Khan has also written to British Prime Minister David Cameron to further discuss the problems faced by the curry industry but has meanwhile asked its members to vote to remain in the EU.
Curry dates back to 1810 in the UK, when the first such restaurant opened in the country. It has since become a generic term used to refer to food originating in the Indian subcontinent and tailored to suit British palates. Chicken Tikka Masala, a typically British twist to chicken curry, has been famously-branded the nation’s favourite dish.
Curry houses in particular have their roots largely among Bangladeshi-origin migrants, with some from India and Pakistan. In recent times, authentically Indian restaurants with roots in India tend to occupy the slightly higher-end of the market. However, stricter immigration norms over the years have made it tougher for many of these restaurants to bring in qualified chefs from the subcontinent, leading to the closure of hundreds of curry houses in the past year.
“Curry has become a powerful symbol of our diverse and tolerant society, one that welcomes those who work hard, pay their taxes and contribute. That includes the generations of Indians, Pakistanis and Bangladeshis who have brought their wonderful cooking to Britain.
But it also includes more recent waves of immigration from Eastern Europe who have also brought their own unique contributions to our country,” says Keith Vaz, another Indian-origin MP who is campaigning for Britain to remain in the EU. The chair of the influential House of Commons Home Affairs Select Committee has repeatedly challenged Patel’s claims over EU being responsible for Britain’s curry demise.
He said: “The heart of the problem is the current visa scheme which has set a salary threshold of 29,750 pounds for chefs, much higher than the average salary for cooks in curry houses. This makes it extremely difficult for the nation’s curry restaurants to recruit chefs from abroad.
“This could easily be solved in a stroke of Priti Patel’s pen by lowering the minimum salary requirement for chefs, something I have campaigned for along with MPs from all parties. But Priti has failed to address this vital issue and is now conveniently using the EU as a scapegoat.”
Patel, who is part of the UK Cabinet as employment minister, believes a fairer immigration system is the only solution to this curry clash. “Our curry houses are becoming the victims of the EU’s uncontrolled immigration rules. By voting to leave the EU we can take back control of our immigration policies, save our curry houses and join the rest of the world,” she said.
Patel last month launched a “Save Our Curry Houses” campaign, blaming EU migration for the industry crisis.With opinion polls showing a lead for the Vote Leave camp in the last few days, it would seem her end of the argument is resonating with at least some curry lovers.