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HomeDiplomacyIndia-UK free trade agreement unlikely to meet 'Diwali' deadline

India-UK free trade agreement unlikely to meet ‘Diwali’ deadline

UK Home Secretary earlier this week said Indian migrants constitute largest group of foreigners who overstay their visas. Both sides ‘interested’ in concluding talks for FTA, says MEA.

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New Delhi: India and the UK are unlikely to reach the ‘Diwali’ deadline for concluding the much-awaited free trade agreement (FTA), a target that was set under the former Boris Johnson government, ThePrint has learnt.

Earlier this year in April when former UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson visited India, both sides had set ‘Diwali’ as the deadline to wrap up the talks and sign the trade pact. The then British PM had called India as a “stunning and shining” country.

However, much has changed since then. Elizabeth Truss replaced Johnson as the UK premier in September. Home Secretary Suella Braverman has said Indian migrants constitute the largest group of foreigners overstaying their visas and questioned the provision under the proposed FTA under which professionals on both sides will be able to move freely under a friendly visa regime.

Officials working closely on the deal told ThePrint that the Diwali deadline “looks difficult” considering that the UK has voices of opposition against the agreement and the Truss administration may not be able to get it passed the British parliament even if talks wind up by October 21.

While the talks are regularly being held between both sides, the sources said, concluding the provision on movement of professionals might act as a hurdle.

In New Delhi, Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) spokesperson Arindam Bagchi Friday said both sides were interested in concluding the FTA at the earliest. “Diwali has been set as a goal. Intensive discussions are underway towards this and they are continuing,” he said at a weekly press conference.

On Braverman’s “reservations” about immigration, Bagchi said, “Migration mobility is an important element and there’s understanding about it. Whenever there is an Indian citizen abroad, we strongly encourage legal migration. We expect the UK side to show demonstrable action on it.”

Meanwhile, the Indian High Commission in the UK reportedly said Friday, “As part of our wider discussions under Migration and Mobility, the government of India is committed to work with the government of UK to facilitate the return of Indian citizens who have overstayed their visa period here in the UK.”

“As per data shared with the Home Office, as on date, action has been initiated on all of the cases referred to the High Commission. Further, the UK has also undertaken to fulfil certain commitments as part of the Migration and Mobility Protocol, on which we await demonstrable progress,” it said. 

Also Read: More than just whisky: Trade body explains why India-UK FTA should address trade barriers

‘Concerns about having open border policy’

Braverman is reported not to be enthusiastic of the MoU on migration and mobility partnership between India and the UK in May 2021 which was hailed as “ground-breaking” at that time by the Johnson government. In a recent interview, the current Home Secretary said it has “not necessarily worked very well”.

Under the MMP, which is going to be part of the FTA, the UK has agreed to create a new scheme on youth mobility. Under the scheme, every year up to 3,000 young Indian professionals can avail employment in the UK for two years without being subject to the labour market test. This number can be expanded further, and India will take back its illegal immigrants in return.

“I have concerns about having an open borders migration policy with India because I don’t think that’s what people voted for with Brexit,” Braverman said, in an interview to The Spectator

 “Look at migration in this country – the largest group of people who overstay are Indian migrants. We even reached an agreement with the Indian government last year to encourage and facilitate better co-operation in this regard. It has not necessarily worked very well,” she said.

Braverman, a former attorney general, had also said in June that she is “proud of the British empire.”

In September, Union commerce and industry minister Piyush Goyal said, both sides are working towards meeting the Diwali deadline even as they completed five rounds of intense negotiations. 

(Edited by Tony Rai)

Also Read: Defence tech transfer, fighter jet collaboration — UK PM’s India visit packed with deliverables


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