As PM, Boris Johnson hopes to build on personal ties with Narendra Modi
Relations between India and the United Kingdom are poised for a reset if Boris Johnson, who takes over as the prime minister on Wednesday, delivers on his promise to build on his personal relationship with Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Johnson’s first foreign visit as prime minister outside Europe may well be to India, a senior functionary at the Foreign Office said, adding that the issue of Britain apologising for the 1919 Jallianwalla Bagh massacre remains a “work in progress”.
“If it (the apology) happens, the right place for it to be tendered is Amritsar during a visit by the prime minister”, he said.
Discussions have been continuing within the government since outgoing Prime Minister Theresa May expressed “deep regret” in April, and an apology by Johnson during an India visit would set the tone for his ambitious post-Brexit plans for trade with India.
Known for his love of Indian food, ‘bhangra’ and visits to India over the decades, Johnson has often spoken about Britain’s historic and contemporary links with India. He has also favoured easier visa norms to encourage more Indian students to come to the UK.
Johnson highlighted his desire to forge a free trade agreement with India: “Securing this new and improved trading relationship with our friends in India will be priority for me,” he wrote to Indian-origin Conservative members while seeking their support in the leadership poll.
“As Foreign Secretary I visited India and have a personal relationship with Prime Minister Modi and members of his administration…I will work closely with our friends in the Indian Government, business and society to deliver a truly special UK-India relationship,” he wrote.
Stating that his commitment to UK-India relations “runs deep”, Johnson believes it should run deeper than trade, interchange of goods and services as well as whiskey – he is keen that India lower the 150 per cent tariff on UK’s Scotch whisky exports.
He described his vision of the UK-India relations to journalists at an event to mark the 70th anniversary of the Indian Journalists Association: “An incredible synchresis of ideas, people, goods and services, an ecstasy of cross-pollination and cross-fertilisation that is represented at so many levels, including cricket, tea, the ‘bhangra’ beat, chicken tikka masala, but also the glorious and ever changing language of English”.
Johnson saw during a visit to India as the mayor of London “how important it was to ensure that we have a fair and balanced immigration system”, he wrote in the open letter to party members, adding his preference for Australia’s points-based immigration system.