Boris Johnson’s big election win set to rejuvenate India-UK ties
Driven by history and post-colonial realities, India and the UK have close relations in a range of areas, including defence, trade, technology, investment, and human resources.Updated: Dec 13, 2019 19:30 IST
A free trade agreement with India will be top the agenda of the new Boris Johnson government after the Conservative Party won a landslide victory in Thursday’s election and re-starts the Brexit process to leave the European Union on January 31.
Johnson, who has had family ties with India through his former wife Marina Wheeler, has carried forward the Conservative Party’s ‘India doctrine’ initiated by former leader David Cameron since 2005, exerting to win support from the Indian community in the UK.
Conservative leaders hinted during the election campaign that if elected, one of Johnson’s first foreign visits as the prime minister is likely to be India. He has often mentioned the prospect and benefits to the UK of a free trade agreement with India.
Gareth Price, senior fellow at think-tank Chatham House, said: “The new government will be keen on a free trade agreement with India, but depends whether India wants it or not. The India ties will also depend on how the UK’s post-Brexit relationship develops with the EU.”
“London is a gateway to the EU, so if the government ensures continuing proximity to EU rules, Indian companies would continue to come here, but not sure if they would be so interested if the new UK-EU relationship prevents EU-wide access”.
“But the Boris Johnson government will do better with the current government in New Delhi compared to a Labour government, had it been elected, given the concerns over Labour’s stand on Kashmir, for example”, he added.
Driven by history and post-colonial realities, India and the UK have close relations in a range of areas, including defence, trade, technology, investment, and human resources. Nearly 900 Indian companies have offices in the UK, investing in the country and operating world-wide from their UK base.
Promising to deliver a “truly special UK-India relationship”, Johnson said during the campaign: “When I was with Prime Minister Modi I stressed that the UK and India are two modern democracies who should work closely together to promote trade and prosperity, improve global security and tackle the challenges our countries face.”
Visiting the Neasden temple over the weekend, Johnson mentioned his personal relationship with ‘Narendra bhai’, and hailed the contribution of the 1.5 million-strong Indian community, without which, according to him, “the UK would be lesser in so many ways”.
Johnson, who appointed three Indian-origin MPs to senior positions and is likely to retain them - Priti Patel (home secretary), Alok Sharma (international development secretary) and Rishi Sunak (chief secretary to the Treasury) - has already announced post-Brexit immigration plans likely to benefit Indian professionals and students.
The Conservative Party, which was long seen as the ‘nasty party’ by earlier generations of Indian immigrants who preferred Labour, increased its tally of MPs from the community from five to seven, matching those of Labour.
Johnson and the Conservative Party’s pro-India approach stood in stark contrast with that of Labour during the election, particularly on the latter’s stand on Kashmir under its leader, Jeremy Corbyn. Sections of the community termed the party ‘anti-India’ and campaigned against its candidates.