Minreet Kaur: Leaked Audio Of Raab Supporting Trade With Human Rights Abusers Raises Concerns Among UK Sikhs

The UK will actively pursue trade deals with countries that engage in human rights abuses Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab tells officials in a leaked video call

Minreet Kaur
March 18, 2021 | 3.5 min. read

UK Sikhs have raised serious concerns over recent revelations that Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab told officials in a leaked video call that the UK will actively pursue trade deals with countries that engage in human rights abuses.

As first reported by HuffPost UK, Raab is heard in the call saying, “if we restrict it to countries with ECHR-level standards of human rights, we’re not going to do many trade deals with the growth markets of the future.”

India is one such growth market, currently governed by Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist government. 

While Raab believes trade deals can exert a “positive influence even if it’s only a moderating influence” on human rights, India’s democratic institutions and civil liberties continue to spiral down at an alarming rate. 

The V-Dem Institute recently downgraded India from an Electoral Democracy to an Electoral Autocracy, and Freedom House also recently downgraded India from Free to Partly Free. Human Rights Watch has been raising alarm bells over India’s deteriorating human rights record under the Modi regime, and Amnesty International was recently forced to halt work in the country. 

Gurpreet Singh Johal, the family lead campaigner of the Free Jaggi Now campaign and a solicitor, is disappointed but not surprised with Raab’s comments. 

His brother, Jagtar Singh Johal, a British citizen, has been tortured and imprisoned in India for over 3 years, and is facing the death penalty. The Indian government has yet to produce any evidence and recently has accused him of another crime that occurred while he was already incarcerated in a maximum-security prison. 

“It is clear the UK values trade over human rights. It doesn't come as a surprise that the UK government is content with trading with countries like India who have continuously violated human rights including those of my British brother, Jagtar Singh Johal,” he said. 

The UK government has claimed that Jagtar Singh’s case is a priority for them, however little action or updates have been seen by those watching the matter closely. According to Gurpreet Singh, the Foreign Secretary has refused to meet with the family recently and in fact, are continuing legal appeals to have Jagtar Singh’s wife returned to India

“The UK Government promised ‘extreme action’ if a British national had been subjected to torture and mistreatment in November 2017, however to date the UK government has failed to take any action in the case. My brother has been incarcerated in an Indian jail without formal charges on the serious allegations against him, despite the Indians claiming to have ‘all evidence’ against him,” he said.  

Labour Party MP Preet Kaur Gill has been vocal both on India’s human rights record and the Jagtar Singh ordeal. 

“Raab went on the Andrew Marr show some weeks ago stating we shouldn’t actually be doing trade deals with countries where there are human rights violations. However, what we have now witnessed is that Raab has completely undermined and contradicted not only his position but of the Prime Minister by saying to staff in FCDO that we will be doing trade deals with those that have committed human rights violations.”

She believes the leaked audio reveals the true intentions of the UK government, and how it will shape its foreign policy. 

“It’s quite shocking as a democracy that upholds human rights and international law that this government is retreating from the world stage. It’s appalling to see these contradictions, this is not Global Britain. The world is watching.”

While Raab’s comments raise questions as to the UK government’s commitment to protecting the rights of British citizens like his brother, Gurpreet Singh believes an escalation of global awareness regarding India’s troubling state of affairs will have an impact - including the recent UK Parliament debate regarding India’s attacks on the free press and its collapsing democratic institutions.

“It is clear that India will not get away with violating human rights as they are being exposed on an international stage. The UK Government will only act if the pressure continues,” he adds, “despite the UK appearing not to care, they have no choice other than to raise Jagtar's case with the Indians because if they fail to do then they are party to the human rights violations.”


Minreet Kaur is an award-winning freelance journalist based in the UK. Daughter of the legendary skipping Sikh which won report of the year in 2020. She has written for BBC, Sky, The Independent, HuffPost, Al Jazeera, and The Tribune. She writes about religion, culture, communities, and human rights. You find Minreet on Twitter at @minkaur5.

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