In just a few weeks, on Thursday 23 June, the UK will vote in an historic referendum to decide whether it should remain in or leave the European Union.
I firmly believe that the UK will be stronger, safer, and better-off staying in a reformed EU, benefiting everyone in the UK, including Bangladeshi and other Commonwealth citizens living here.
The Commonwealth is of immense importance to the United Kingdom. No matter how you look at the relationship – historic, cultural, or our personal ties – our connection with the Commonwealth is stronger now than ever.
The UK, along with Malta and Cyprus, has long been the Commonwealth’s voice inside the EU: pushing for trade deals; leveraging development spending; and creating jobs and driving growth.
Pakistan’s exports to the EU have soared as a result of our efforts to cut duty, linked to progress on human rights. Bangladesh’s economy has been boosted thanks to duty-free access to the EU market, championed by the UK. We help secure huge amounts of EU development funding for both these countries and many others like South Africa, Sri Lanka, and Nigeria. And we continue to push the EU for free trade deal with many Commonwealth countries like Australia and India.
The fact that Commonwealth citizens resident in the UK have the right to vote shows just how close our connection is. But many still haven’t registered to do so, despite this being the biggest decision the UK will make for a generation.
So what is stopping you? Maybe you think you are not eligible? You are, as long as you are a Commonwealth national with leave to remain in the UK – even if you haven’t taken out British citizenship.
Or maybe you think the process is too complicated? It’s not, it takes just five minutes online. You need your passport and National Insurance number, then go to www.gov.uk/register-to-vote (or search for ‘UK register to vote’).
Or perhaps you think this referendum doesn’t matter to you? If you live in the UK, you have as much of a role in this referendum as I do. Many of you have spent years living, working and contributing to the UK. And most of you still have deep ties with Bangladesh; whether through family, property, or returning to live there again one day.
So the outcome of this referendum will affect not only your life, but your loved ones back in Bangladesh for decades to come.
Whatever side you come down on, the most important thing is that you have your say. Don’t miss the opportunity to vote in this historic moment.