For Boris Johnson, Republic Day visit to India carries hope of delivering on Brexit promises, trade deals

The timing of the visit is crucial for India, as it seeks to boost trade after the coronavirus-induced economic slump

FP Staff December 16, 2020 15:51:34 IST
For Boris Johnson, Republic Day visit to India carries hope of delivering on Brexit promises, trade deals

File image of UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson. AP

British prime minister Boris Johnson's scheduled visit to India in January 2021 as the chief guest at the Republic Day Parade holds out promise for a further strengthening of ties between New Delhi and London.

Johnson will be the first British prime minister since John Major in 1993 to be the chief guest for India's Republic Day celebrations.

The timing of the visit is crucial for India, as it seeks to boost trade after the coronavirus -induced economic slump. The United Kingdom, on its part, has been looking at ramping up trade with major economies like India. There have been apprehensions that its separation from the European Union without a trade deal could severely cripple its financial markets and may have long-term implications for its economy, as noted by PTI.

In this context, here is a look at what has shaped Johnson's view of India and how it can affect ties between New Delhi and London in the near future.

India-UK ties under Johnson

Johnson on Tuesday struck a very optimistic note while commenting on his scheduled visit to India.

According to Downing Street, Johnson while describing India as a key player in the Indo-Pacific region said that his visit will mark the start of an "exciting year" for Global Britain and deliver a "quantum leap" in the bilateral ties.

Downing Street has also billed the visit as Johnson's first major bilateral visit since taking over as UK's prime minister, according to BBC.

Speaking on the scheduled visit, Johnson said, "I am absolutely delighted to be visiting India next year at the start of an exciting year for Global Britain, and look forward to delivering the quantum leap in our bilateral relationship that Prime Minister Narendra Modi and I have pledged to achieve."

"As a key player in the Indo-Pacific region, India is an increasingly indispensable partner for the United Kingdom as we work to boost jobs and growth, confront shared threats to our security and protect our planet," he said.

For Johnson, the promise of 'jobs and growth' is a particularly important one, as he seeks to justify the decision to leave the European Union. As noted by an article in Observer Research Foundation, closer ties with India — and in particular securing a free trade agreement — will be central to his ability to deliver a Brexit dividend.

However, any free trade agreement will likely take a significant amount of time to materialise. An Indo-UK joint statement on 29 July said that the two countries are seeking "to agree to an Enhanced Trade Partnership as part of a roadmap that could lead to a future FTA. The Enhanced Trade Partnership will seek to address non-tariff barriers to trade, and will establish a specific dialogue to explore routes to removing tariff barriers."

However, as the ORF article points out, if Johnson reaches such an agreement with India before the European Union, it will be a huge coup for his government.

India, on its part, is seeking liberal labour flows as a reciprocal demand to a free trade agreement. While the UK has been cagey about labour flows due to anti-immigrant sentiment, the economic stress caused by the COVID-19 pandemic can lead it to revisit its position, as noted by Hindustan Times.

Economic ties constitute just one aspect on which there is hope for an uptick in India-UK ties. Another such aspect is defence co-operation. India and the UK are also in the final stages of finalising a defence logistics sharing pact, according to The Economic Times. The pact is said to be aimed at enabling the reciprocal use of bases and airfields for fuel, supplies and spares.

Ramping up of defence ties also becomes important for India in the context of an increasingly assertive China. In this context, Johnson's remarks at the Raisina Dialogue in January 2017, when he was the UK's foreign secretary, hold out hope. He had said, "We believe India can be a vital force for stability in this region, the keystone of a giant natural arch, created by the Indian ocean running from Perth in the east to Cape Town in the west... This is the vast hinterland in which India rightly seeks to influence events and we support Prime Minister [Narendra] Modi in his ambition for India to rejoin the neighbouring geographies."

Johnson also said that Britain favours a 'rules-based order' in the South China Sea and said, "We oppose the militarisation of the South China Sea and we urge all parties to respect freedom of navigation and settle their disputes peacefully in accordance with international law."

Finally, India and the UK's ties are also crucial from the point of view of the battle against COVID-19 . With the Serum Institute of India having partnered with British firm AstraZeneca for conducting vaccine trials, this is expected to be another area of co-operation between the two countries.

Thus, when Johnson lands on Indian shores next month, his visit will be looked at keenly with hopes for progress on all these fronts.

With inputs from PTI

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