Highest priority to India ties, says UK PM candidate Jeremy Hunt
Foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt, who is putting up a concerted challenge to front runner Boris Johnson in the ongoing election for the next Conservative leader and prime minister, says he will accord the highest priority to relations with India.
Over 1.6 lakh Conservative members are currently voting by postal ballots for the two candidates. The result will be declared on July 23 and the next party leader will succeed Theresa May as the prime minister on the next day.
As Johnson, 55, and Hunt, 52, addressed live televised hustings across the UK, focusing mainly on their approach to Brexit, Hunt sent a letter to members of the Conservative Friends of India, a group within the party, as well as a video message.
Seeking support from Indian-origin members of the Conservative party, Hunt recalled his five-month-long backpacking trip to India years ago. One of memories of the visit, he recently revealed, was enjoying ‘bhang lassi’.
He said in the video message: “I want you to know that friendship between India and the United Kingdom will be one of my highest priorities as prime minister”.
“The great thing about this country is that we have such strong links all over the world but none is more important than India, the country that will soon have the largest population in the world, is a beacon of tolerance and diversity across the world.”
Looking to the future, Hunt wrote in the letter: “I look forward to engaging with India to negotiate a free trade agreement following Britain’s exit from the European Union later this year. Given the closeness of the two countries, I hope and expect that we will be able to agree on this very soon”.
Recalling the contribution of the 1.5 -million-strong Indian diaspora to the relations between Britain and India, Hunt said the ‘living bridge’ encapsulates the exchange of people, culture and ideas between the two countries.
“As Prime Minister, I would look forward to working with Prime Minister Modi on his new agenda, especially on areas such as building climate resilience and improving ease of doing business. Under my leadership, Britain will continue to be a global, outward-looking, tolerant country,” he wrote.
Hunt noted that nearly 20,000 Indian students came to the UK last year, and the numbers were now over 70% higher compared to 2016. Skilled workers from India in 2018 increased at the fastest rate for any country: “We still issue more skilled work visas to Indians than to the rest of the world combined”.
The election of the Conservative leader - who will take over as the next prime minister - has been triggered by the resignation of May over intense criticism inside and outside her party on her approach to Brexit.