Prime Minister Boris Johnson
London: United Kingdom Prime Minister Boris Johnson will visit Delhi next week where at a meeting with PM Narendra Modi he is expected to raise issues such as India buying Russian oil, the war in Ukraine and India’s recent voting patterns at the UN, as well as discuss progress on the UK-India FTA.
The UK is likely to try to pressure India to soften its ties with Russia but, like the US, is unlikely to succeed. The main outcome of the trip will be FTA progress and a defence deal but it is the optics that will count more. Johnson will hope to look like he is persuading India to shift sides and India will be able to give that appearance without sidelining Russia.
Johnson will be hoping for a concrete announcement to take the heat off the “Partygate” scandal — and that is expected to be both on how far the UK-India FTA negotiations have got, as well as a big announcement on a new UK-India defence and security partnership.
The main day will be April 22 in Delhi when there will be a ceremonial reception for Johnson and official engagements. There will also be a short visit to another state where Johnson will view “a successful UK-India collaboration”. There are no plans as yet for a business delegation to accompany Johnson.
Delhi is expected to clearly outline its position on Russia as India’s external affairs minister S. Jaishankar did in Washington DC this week. In the end it is likely both sides will respect the other’s position. Delhi is expected to raise the issue of Khalistani activism in Britain and the UK allowing the Punjab Referendum 2020 to take place on its soil, even though it has no legal status in India. Delhi will also express its frustration at outstanding extradition requests for high-profile fugitives like Nirav Modi and Vijay Mallya. Regional issues such as Afghanistan will also be discussed.
The trip is expected to go well as Modi and Johnson get on well and Johnson has huge enthusiasm for India. It could not come at a better time for Johnson, who is hoping that success in the international arena will draw attention away from his slide in popularity at home.
India is actively seeking new defence partnerships that include technology transfers and allow India to create defence equipment with another country under its “Make in India” programme. Defence ties between the two nations have been growing ever since the UK announced its Indo-Pacific tilt in March 2021 and the subsequent visit of the UK carrier strike group to the region, which led to joint exercises with the Indian Navy and Indian Air Force. India will be able to increase its defence orders from the UK without turning away from its old ally Russia.
There are 26 chapters in the proposed UK-India FTA, four of which have already been agreed, though that does not include eliminating tariffs on Scotch whisky imports, a demand that seems important to the British. There has been significant progress in the remaining 22 chapters and there is every chance the FTA will be finalised by the end of the year. India, for its part, wants to see easier visa access for its citizens. The UK wants to speed up the return of illegal immigrants.
The 2030 Roadmap, a comprehensive document agreed between the two leaders in May 2021, will guide the talks. Delhi views the UK as a natural partner in a wide variety of areas, including healthcare, life sciences, technology, green growth and sustainable financing, and finds the UK nimbler and able to act faster since leaving the EU. The UK has been prioritising and intensifying engagement with India ever since Brexit. Modi and Johnson last met at COP 26 but this is the long-awaited PM-level visit from the UK, which has been cancelled twice, once because of Covid in the UK and then because of Covid in India.
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