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Having an Asian Prime Minister would have been unimaginable two decades ago

Having an Asian Prime Minister would have been unimaginable two decades ago


3 min read

In 2002 I was privileged to have been awarded Asian of the Year by the home secretary at the time, David Blunkett.

In my acceptance speech I remember saying, “in my lifetime we will see an Asian as prime minister of the United Kingdom”, it has taken two decades but we have got there with Rishi Sunak. To think when I came to this country from India as a 19-year-old student in the early 1980s I was told by my family and friends that if I decided to stay on and work after my studies in the UK I would never get to the top because as a foreigner there would be a glass ceiling. Sadly, they were absolutely right but since then, over the past few decades, I have seen that glass ceiling completely shattered, with the UK now a country of aspiration and opportunity where anyone can reach the top regardless of race, religion or background.

We now have an Asian, South Asian and a person of Indian origin having reached the very top. This is a matter of huge pride to the 1.5m strong Indian community in the UK, the largest ethnic minority community in the country, to the 30m people of Indian origin living around the world and to the 1.4bn people in India.

What Rishi has done creates inspiration, which creates aspiration

The UK has given us such amazing opportunity. For me to be able to build Cobra Beer from scratch into what is now a household brand and probably the most famous Indian consumer brand in the UK, to be appointed as the first Indian born chancellor of a Russell Group University at the University of Birmingham and to have been the first ethnic minority president of the CBI (Confederation of British Industry). What Rishi has done creates inspiration, which creates aspiration, which creates achievement which in turn creates inspiration – a virtuous circle!

The UK and India have a special relationship enhanced by the living bridge of the 1.5 million strong Indian community in the UK. We are close to completing a Free Trade Agreement with India which should turbocharge trade, business and investment between our two countries. Since the re-introduction of the two year post graduate work visa, the number of Indian students coming to the UK has grown exponentially and soon I predict that Indian students will overtake Chinese, to become the largest in the UK.

As president of the CBI, my term was almost coterminous with Rishi Sunak’s as chancellor – this was throughout the pandemic as well as the sad war in Ukraine. I have witnessed how hard he worked collaboratively with business to help save the British economy, business and jobs resulting in us today having the lowest unemployment rate since the 1970s.

When Queen Elizabeth passed away on the 8 September, in the period leading up to her funeral we saw how globally admired, respected and loved she was. Thanks to her, our standing as a country was phenomenal. Yet, since the mini budget of the 23 September people around the world were literally saying “what is this great country doing to itself?!” Our global reputation has come crashing down.

Now Rishi Sunak has to show true leadership by uniting his party, the country and tackling huge challenges. This includes a looming recession, inflation, supply chain challenges, labour shortages, the war in Ukraine, completing the FTA with India and restoring the UK’s reputation as a highly respected and trusted global power, which always conducts itself with integrity.

How wonderful that the son of an Indian-origin immigrant doctor and pharmacist has worked hard and through his ability and determination, as a British Indian, become the first Asian Prime Minister of the UK.


Lord Bilimoria, crossbench peer.

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Read the most recent article written by Lord Bilimoria - My New Year's Wish... Peace to Ukraine


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