Two Indian-origin MPs join British Prime Minister Theresa May’s cabinet in reshuffle

Rishi Sunak with wife Akshata and daughters Krishna and Anoushka.
Photo: Sunak’s website

London (PTI): Rishi Sunak, the son-in-law of Infosys chief Narayana Murthy, is among two new Indian-origin MPs to be inducted into the UK government by British Prime Minister Theresa May following the recent reshuffle of her team of ministers.

Sunak, 37, a Conservative party MP for Richmond (Yorkshire), has been appointed the new parliamentary under-secretary of state in the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government as part of a New Year reshuffle this week.

Suella Fernandes
Photo: Twitter

Sunak is joined by fellow pro-Brexit campaigner, Goan-origin Suella Fernandes, who takes charge as parliamentary under-secretary of state in the Department for Exiting the European Union (DExEU).

The resignation of Priti Patel, a high-profile pro-Brexit voice, as international development minister amid controversy over an Israel visit last year had left the top rungs of the UK Cabinet short of many ethnic minority faces.

The addition of Sunak and Fernandes takes the number of Indian-origin MPs in Theresa May’s ministerial team to three, with Alok Sharma, Conservative Party MP for Reading West, moved from his post as housing minister to employment minister. He tweeted that he was “looking forward” to his new role in the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).

Sunak and Fernandes, who take charge of their junior ministerial roles as part of Theresa May’s team, were among the prominent Indian-origin campaigners in favour of Britain’s exit from the EU in the June 2016 referendum, pushing for closer ties with Commonwealth countries like India.

“From working in my mum’s tiny chemist shop to my experience building large businesses, I have seen how we should support free enterprise and innovation to ensure Britain has a stronger future,” said Sunak.

The UK-born son of a pharmacist mother and a National Health Service (NHS) general practitioner father is married to Murthy’s daughter Akshata Murthy.

The Oxford University and Stanford MBA graduate co-founded a 1-billion-pound global investment firm and specialized in investing in small British businesses before his entry to the British Parliament in the 2015 general election.

Since his re-election in last year’s snap election called by May, Sunak was widely tipped for a ministerial role in a government keen to enhance the ethnic mix of its Cabinet.

Sunak believes small businesses in the UK would flourish as a result of Brexit as the “vast majority of British businesses (94 per cent) do not have anything to do with the EU; but they are still subject to all EU law”.

Fernandes’ political career has had a similar trajectory, having entered Parliament as a Tory MP in 2015 and then re-elected in the June 2017 snap poll.

The Eurosceptic MP for Fareham has been equally vocal in favour of Brexit, which she believes will allow Britain to strike closer bilateral ties with Commonwealth countries like India and enable “qualified doctors, teachers, and entrepreneurs from non-EU countries” to make a positive contribution to the UK economy.

Britain decided to leave the European Union after the Brexit referendum on June 23, 2016. The country is expected to exit the bloc by March 2019.

The British Prime Minister hailed “a new generation of gifted ministers to step up and make life better for people across the whole UK” as part of her New Year reshuffle, seen as slightly chaotic after an incorrect announcement had to be hastily withdrawn earlier this week.

Downing Street said that following this week’s reshuffle, there are more women attending UK Cabinet, more female ministers and more members of the government from ethnic minorities.

The number of women who are full Cabinet members has remained the same as before at six but the number of other senior female ministers also attend Cabinet has risen from two to four, taking the total number of women around the table to 10.

Two government departments have been renamed, with Housing added to the title of the Communities Department and the title of health minister Jeremy Hunt’s brief now including social care.

The Opposition Labour party dismissed the reshuffle as a “pointless and lacklustre PR exercise”, with party leader Jeremy Corbyn saying the government s “big plan for the new year is to dodge the real issues”.