Theresa May unveils vision for post-Brexit India-UK ties, lauds India as a leading power

britain-modi-mayWith the overarching focus on refashioning ties with New Delhi in the aftermath of London’s planned exit from the EU, British Prime Minister Theresa May has glowingly described India as the UK’s “most important and closest” friend and “a leading power in the world” as she begins a three-day visit to the world’s fastest growing economy on November 6.

May’s Song of India

Ahead of her first bilateral visit to a non-EU country, May outlined an ambitious agenda for dovetailing British capital and expertise to help fructify India’s development agenda pivoted around Make in India, smart cities and the spurring of an ongoing digital revolution.

In an article published in the ‘Sunday Telegraph’ a day before May holds talks with India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi in New Delhi on November 7, she lauded India and its leader, who is “undertaking a far-reaching programme of reform.” “One of our most important and closest friends has to be India – a leading power in the world, with whom we share so much history, culture and so may values, and which is led by a Prime Minister who is undertaking a far-reaching programme of reform,” she wrote.

“In other words, we are two countries with strong ties, a mature relationship and an opportunity to make that even deeper.”

“That is why, today I will be travelling to India for my first bilateral visit outside Europe and first trade mission as Prime Minister, accompanied by a range of top British businesses, including some of our brightest small and medium enterprises.

‘Britain ideal partner of India’

Allaying apprehensions about any adverse impact of Brexit on the UK’s ties with India, she said: “We will be promoting the best of Britain, sending out the message that we are open for business, and making the most of the opportunities offered by Brexit as the world’s foremost champion of free trade.”

“I will be using this visit to reaffirm the importance of the strategic partnership we already have, which delivers huge benefits for both our countries, and to work with Prime Minister Modi to agree concrete steps to realise our shared vision of going even further in our cooperation across trade, investment, defence and security.”

Projecting Britain as the ideal partner in India’s ongoing development journey and its project of national resurgence, May envisaged a blending of Britain’s strengths with India’s development programmes. “Building 100 new ‘Smart Cities’, encouraging firms to ‘Make in India’, getting the country online with ‘Digital India’, delivering better healthcare, infrastructure, skills and finance – these form Prime Minister Modi’s vision, and with our world-class architects, lawyers, financiers, engineers, medics, academics and tech experts, Britain is the ideal partner to help achieve that, creating jobs and growth in both our countries.”

India-UK FTA

Upscaling economic ties, which are already robust, will top the agenda as the post-Brexit UK looks to buttress relations with the world’s fastest growing economy. The focus will be on enhancing two-way investment and beginning informal discussions on the contours of a Free Trade Area agreement between India and the UK. The two sides held a preliminary round of exploratory discussions soon after Theresa May took charge in June this year.

Formal negotiations on the India-UK FTA can only begin officially after Britain revokes Article 50 of the EU Lisbon Treaty in March 2017, paving the way for its formal exit from the EU in 2019. The content of the India-UK FTA will also depend on the kind of deal and terms of exit Britain negotiates with the EU. May, however, called for breaking down barriers to trade and enhanced two-way market access till the FTA is in place.

“There is a great deal we can do right now to break down barriers to trade, open up new markets for British businesses and prepare the ground for ambitious free trade agreements once we have left the EU,” she said.

Visa shadow

britain-modi-may1For India, seeking clarification on the British government’s visa policy will be a top priority. May’s hard-line views on curbing immigration and tightening of visa rules has generated concern and anxiety in India. Against this backdrop, PM Modi is expected to press for easing of procedures and reduction in visa fees for Indian visitors. India is expected to pitch for a preferential visa regime for Indian students, skilled workers and tourists. If May shows willingness to address India’s visa concerns and back it up with policy changes, it could set the stage for accelerating India-UK relations across the spectrum.