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More trade with Commonwealth means more visas: UK

Prime Minister Narendra Modi is scheduled to attend the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in April.

world Updated: Feb 21, 2018 22:56 IST
Prasun Sonwalkar
This year’s Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOMG) is likely to be the last to be presided over by the Queen Elizabeth.
This year’s Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOMG) is likely to be the last to be presided over by the Queen Elizabeth.(AFP)

Brexit-bound Britain, which seeks to reinvigorate links with the Commonwealth with trade as the focus, has admitted that more trade with countries like India would inevitably mean more “people flows” and more business visas.

Tariq Ahmad, Foreign Office minister for the Commonwealth, on Tuesday set out the British government’s plans for the Commonwealth after it takes over its chairmanship for the next two years on April 19 and 20 in London and Windsor.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi is scheduled to attend the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOMG), likely to be the last to be presided over by the Queen Elizabeth, 91, the head of the Commonwealth. There is talk that the issue of her successor will also be discussed informally at the event.

Ahmad told MPs on the Foreign Affairs Committee of Parliament that increased trade with Commonwealth countries would mean increased “people to people flows” and greater demand for business visas.

“As we build relationships with any country, part of that exchange is people. If we are looking to increase trade, we can certainly expect there will be more requirements for people to apply to come here. It is an inevitable consequence,” Ahmad said. He refused to be drawn into questions about how it squared with the Conservative government’s ambition to cut net immigration.

India is likely to be tasked with a greater role at the CHOGM, particularly in the area of trade and business.

Ahmad admitted that the UK had neglected the Commonwealth in recent years, but expressed hope that the group be reinvigorated after the April meeting. “I think we have neglected (the Commonwealth) in terms of other priorities…we have under-leveraged our relationship…we haven’t paid attention to our Commonwealth relationships, but there are huge opportunities…the person who is overseeing this event (CHOGM) is the prime minister (Theresa May) herself,” he said.

“The message that we are trying to project through the event is of a common future. This is an opportunity to strengthen our trade ties. Currently, 9% of our trade is with Commonwealth countries, but opportunities it presents are huge,” he said.

On the issue of the Queen’s successor, committee chair Tom Tugendhat (Conservative) recalled the key role played by former prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru in choosing her as the head of the Commonwealth on her accession to the throne in 1952.

He said: “I believe it was Pandit Nehru who in many ways ‘appointed’ Her Majesty when asked who the next head of Commonwealth would be, on the death of His Majesty King George the Sixth. Nehru responded, ‘the Queen, of course.’ And the decision was made without discussion.”

However, when Tugendhat asked Ahmad, who recently visited India, if New Delhi had any views about the successor, the latter replied that he hadn’t had any discussions on the subject.