Prime Minister Boris Johnson of the United Kingdom is likely to visit India on 26th April this year. The date is more or less finalised. However, pertaining to conditions taking into consideration circumstances around Covid19 and its manifestations. The trip has already been rescheduled as Mr Johnson was invited to participate as chief guest for the Indian Republic day celebrations on 26th January. It was called off as Britain plunged into lockdown with the surfacing of new virus strains in the UK.
The British Prime Minister is also expected to invite his counterpart Prime Minister Modi to attend the G7 summit, which is to be held in the UK this year(June). The invitation will be extended personally from the Prime Minister to his counterpart. It will be a historic occasion in Cornwall when India joins the top table of the global league.
Post the proposition Britain has to offer after Brexit; this trip is of paramount significance. Downing Street has also announced that they intend to review their role and policies towards the Indo Pacific region, called the “Tilt”. The major foreign policy shift will most certainly include an affirmative inclination towards the Indo Pacific region and what is described as the new “Geopolitical centre of the world” as we come out of the planetary pandemic.
Britain’s Queen Elizabeth naval carrier will undertake its first operational deployment in the Indian Ocean region alongside other NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) allies. Mr Johnson will probably take his first foreign visit to India after departure from the European Union, which signifies the strength and the depth of the relationship he wants to forge in the post-pandemic world. The UK is also actively applying to gain partner status in the prestigious Association of South Asian Nations, which could be a significant step in the Indian Ocean region.
Enhanced trade partnership
Britain is keen to negotiate and set up her trade and commerce deals with other countries globally, especially those with core values like democracy at its centre. A free trade agreement can be on the cards; however, some preparatory steps might set the pace. The UK is India’s 14th largest trading partner, and it accounts for around 8.7 billion US dollars in exports and approximately 6.7 billion US dollars of imports as of 2020 – 2021. There is a common understanding that a free trade agreement will be much smoother post Brexit as the European Union might have had some considerations and sensitivities which Britain is no longer part of.
The UK foreign secretary Dominic Raab met India’s foreign minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar in December 2020. Among other discussions, there was a firm commitment from both parties to build a strong defence and security partnership to tackle the common issues that special mention to global terrorism and maritime security.
In February, the UK’s Secretary of State for International Trade, Elizabeth Truss, met with the Indian Minister for Industry and Commerce Piyush Goel and suggested an interim pact might be the missing piece of the jigsaw. There are multiple issues and concerns to non-tariff barriers that both India and UK have flagged up and can only be overcome by constructive conversation. The services sector is also a vital part of this discussion as both India and the UK are determined to give it the necessary boost.
Lord Tariq Ahmad, the Minister for South Asia in the UK Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO), has recently returned from his trip to India two add further steam behind the forthcoming summit of February. It is vital that Britain partners with India to unlock the region’s opportunities and finalise the long-overdue India-UK Enhanced Trade Partnership (ETP).
The foundation of this relationship is the common convergence of Our Shared values, including our strength and, most importantly, Our People. In probably the last decade, Mr Johnson is the only Prime Minister who seriously believes in a cordial and trustworthy relationship with India. This opportunity is perfect for Britain to partner with India and synergistically complement each other. There has been a relative void in the last decade regarding anything substantive in the Indo UK relationship, and perhaps the time has come to change the orientation.
It will probably not be in Britain’s best interests to be reluctant to have a concrete foundation relationship with India and ignore 1.3 billion people. The moment is opportune for both the democracies to partner with each other, and by doing so, Britain can significantly redefine its place in the evolving world framework.
Britain must also consider a few concerns, particularly in the areas of miscreants who operate out of British soil, using the shield of freedom of expression and speech to carry out their propaganda campaign. Actively getting involved in the Indian Ocean region will most certainly ensure Britain will get a significant direction towards international relationships and other policy related parameters. President Biden has already started the Quad’s initiative, placing India at the central pivotal role in its agenda going ahead. Policymakers and Think Tanks in Britain should seriously seize this opportunity to ensure Mr Johnson is not left behind. The Conservative Party leaders must come out in full support of their leader who is on a mission to ensure that are bright and fruitful future for both countries is on the horizon, and his sincere efforts don’t go in vain.
Image Courtesy: PMO India | Govt of UK