Impact of Brexit on Indo-British ties

A tough passage awaits Theresa May

Business & Politics

November 5, 2016

/ By / New Delhi



United Kingdom Prime Minister Theresa May will undertake a three-day visit to India from November 6 to 8. This is her first bilateral visit outside Europe.

British Prime Minister, Theresa May will be coming to India on a three-day state visit on November 6. Her visit has an added significance as this is her first visit to a non-European nation after United Kingdom voted to exit European Union in June this year.

Nevertheless, British Prime Ministers have been making big statement visits to India. For instance, in 2010 two months after he became the Prime Minister, David Cameron led a high-profile delegation to New Delhi. May took over as Prime Minister in July this year.

For three days both sides will engage each other on more than a half a dozen issues.

Vikas Swarup, spokesperson of Ministry of External Affairs, India, informed that the British PM will hold bilateral talks with her counterpart, Narendra Modi. Both Prime Ministers will jointly inaugurate the India-UK Tech Summit organized by Department of Science & Technology and the Confederation of Indian Industry on November 7 in New Delhi.

The decision to hold the India-UK Tech Summit was agreed upon during the PM Modi’s visit to the UK in November 2015. New initiatives on deepening science and technology collaboration between India and the UK are expected to be announced at the Summit.

Under the umbrella of the India-UK Technology Summit, four other summits – the India-UK Higher Education Summit, the India-UK Entrepreneurship and Innovation Summit, the India-UK Design Summit and the India-UK Intellectual Property Rights Summit – are also being organized.

A Vision Statement setting out the fundamental principles of the UK-India partnership was laid out during Modi’s visit to UK last year. Now, May is all keen to take the bilateral ties to the next level. “We have the chance to forge a new global role for the UK,” May proclaimed earlier this week as her visit to India was announced. She pledged to look for “economic and diplomatic opportunities” in the wider world.

A meeting of the Joint Economic Trade Committee (JETCO) chaired by the Minister of State for Commerce & Industry, Nirmala Sitharaman and the UK Secretary of State for International Trade, Liam Fox will also be held during the visit. A meeting of the India-UK CEOs Forum will also be held alongside JETCO.

Indian MNCs – Infosys, Tata Consultancy Services and Tata Steel – have been worried about the impact of the UK’s exit from the EU on their businesses. It is to be seen how the visiting British delegation reaches out to India.

The UK, which ranked 18th in the list of India’s top 25 trading partners in 2014-15, will heavily focus on trade during PM May’s visit. This is because Britain’s economic future is uncertain as doubts regarding continued access to the EU’s single market.

While these are scheduled meetings between the two sides, the passage for the British premier will not be a smooth sail.

One of the contentious issues will be that of immigration of Indian students and professionals.

Lack of consensus over visa restrictions have been a stumbling block between India and the European Union. The issue has dragged on for nearly a decade. Last year Britain liberally relaxed visa for Chinese visitors, including a new 10-year visa at no added cost, while discriminating against the Indians.

Ironically, these restrictions were implemented by May when she was the British Home Secretary from 2010 till she became PM.

The number of study visas issued to Indian nationals fell from 68,238 in 2010 to 11,864 in 2015. Over the same period the number of visas Britain issued to Chinese students nearly doubled!

That fact that issue is very important to the Indian side can be attested from the brief comment made by India’s foreign office spokesperson, Vikas Swarup. “We have raised our concerns on difficulties faced by Indian students with the UK side and we expect mobility issues to be raised during the visit.”

It is to be seen how May, who is the second woman to hold the post of Prime Minister after Margaret Thatcher, strikes a balance between her vow to cut down net migration from 336,000 to under 100,000 per year and yet convince her Indian counterpart and the Indian industry on the contentious issue.

May is also likely to raise the issue of six Britons – Nick Dunn, John Armstrong, Ray Tindall, Nicholas Simpson, Paul Towers and Billy Irving — sentenced five years and lodged in a Tamil Nadu jail. The six are among 35 members of American anti-piracy vessel, ‘MV Seaman Guard Ohio’, which was intercepted by the Coast Guard off Tuticorin, Tamil Nadu, on October 12, 2013 for allegedly carrying unlicensed weapons.

Even as May is eagerly looking for trading opportunities with fast-growing economies in the aftermath of Brexit, India will wait and watch whether Britain relaxes its stiffening upper lip on many of its concerns.

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