Britain’s influence in international politics may have been on the wane even before the June 23 Brexit referendum, but India has signalled its readiness to help the country deal with the crisis spawned by the vote to leave the European Union.
India featured prominently in arguments in support for leaving the EU during the referendum campaign. Its large market was seen as one of the major options for Britain after exiting and losing access to the European Single Market. India is Prime Minister Theresa May’s first port of call outside the EU for a bilateral visit from November 6.
A panel discussion at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) on the future of India-UK trade after Brexit was told there were not many countries with whom India had so many “umbilical’ ties that would continue.
“We are ready to help Britain deal with the Brexit situation. We stand by Britain in this time of crisis; that is what friends do. There are many ongoing initiatives between us in trade and other areas, and they would have continued even if there was no Brexit,” Dinesh Patnaik, India’s acting high commissioner, told the gathering on Wednesday.
Noting that more than 800 Indian companies used their base in Britain to access the European market, which may be lost as Britain goes through the two-year exit process from March 2017, Patnaik said that “it would take a lot of negativity for them to move out of Britain” and that he did not see it happening.
According to Pasquale Scaramozzino, professor of economics at SOAS, Britain had already suffered “huge reputational damage” as an open society because of the Brexit vote. Britain will have a smaller economy after the Brexit process is completed, he said.
“India and Indian companies are in a privileged position now and should take advantage of the weakness of Britain’s position to use opportunities here. India could also play off Britain and the EU against each other in trade negotiations,” Scaramozzino added.
Pratik Dattani, UK country director of Ficci, noted that despite the 2010 ambition to double trade between India and Britain by 2015, it went up by only 10% to 15%. India was exporting more to Britain than vice versa, and only 3% of India’s trade was with Britain.
“Britain needs India more in the Brexit situation. When Prime Minister May and Prime Minister Narendra Modi meet in New Delhi, it will be a meeting of equals,” Dattani said.