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‘Let’s stick together against autocratic states’ — message Boris Johnson is bringing to Modi

UK PM to visit India later this week for a bilateral meeting with PM Modi. UK’s Indo-Pacific ‘tilt’, India’s stand on the war & a proposed trade pact likely to be discussed.

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New Delhi: Ahead of his visit to India later this week, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said that as “democracies and friends”, India and the UK should “stick together”, seemingly referring to the ongoing Russia-Ukraine war keeping in mind New Delhi’s stand on the issue.

This will be Johnson’s maiden visit as UK’s PM. He will be meeting Prime Minister Narendra Modi for a bilateral summit meeting on Friday.

Johnson’s two-day trip comes within weeks of a visit by his Foreign Secretary Elizabeth Truss, who came to India end-March to give New Delhi a “diplomatic push” for calling out Russia over its Ukraine invasion.

“As we face threats to our peace and prosperity from autocratic states, it is vital that democracies and friends stick together. India, as a major economic power and the world’s largest democracy, is a highly valued strategic partner for the UK in these uncertain times,” Johnson said ahead of his visit.

“My visit to India will deliver on the things that really matter to the people of both our nations from job creation and economic growth, to energy security and defence,” he added.

Discussions between Johnson and Modi will be “dominated” by the evolving situation in Ukraine, and Britain may, like its other western allies, push India to call out Russia for its invasion of Ukraine and also take stringent actions against Moscow, sources told ThePrint.

The British PM may also like to “assess” how India’s stance will shape up going forward as the war may soon enter its third month.

Johnson’s visit comes at a time when intense acrimony has built up between Britain and Moscow, so much so that the Russian foreign ministry imposed a ban on Johnson and his senior cabinet colleagues for “fuelling anti-Russian hysteria” even as the UK has put unprecedented sanctions on the Kremlin.

Earlier this month, Johnson made a surprise visit to Ukraine where he met its President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, committing more military help to Kyiv by way of armoured vehicles and anti-ship weapons.  

During her visit to India, Truss and External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar had a verbal duel of sorts on New Delhi’s plans to import oil from Russia. Addressing an event jointly with Truss, Jaishankar said that a certain “campaign” is going on against India while European countries are continuing their energy purchases from Russia.

Also Read: Alcohol, dairy, Brexit complications — these are challenges an India-UK FTA faces, say experts

UK’s Indo-Pacific ‘tilt’

During the visit, both sides will also discuss their vision of the Indo-Pacific strategic construct under the UK-India Comprehensive Strategic Partnership, sources said.

The visit will also assume significance in light of the UK’s 2021 Integrated Review a “comprehensive articulation of the UK’s national security and international policy”. Unveiled on 16 March last year, it put India as a priority country while enumerating Britain’s foreign and security policy ‘tilt’ towards the Indo-Pacific region.

India and the UK will also hold discussions on expanding their defence and security, sources said, adding that both sides might make some announcement on that front. In October 2021, the UK Navy’s Carrier Strike Group 2021, led by the HMS Queen Elizabeth, sailed to India in an effort to expand defence and maritime cooperation with India.

During their first bilateral summit since Johnson took over as PM, which was held virtually last year, Johnson and Modi laid down a roadmap for their strategic ties till 2030.  

According to the Ministry of External Affairs, the prime ministers “will review implementation of the Roadmap 2030 and set their vision for further intensifying cooperation across the full spectrum of bilateral ties”, as well as “exchange views on regional and global issues of mutual interest”.

“The leaders will hold in-depth talks on the UK and India’s strategic defence, diplomatic and economic partnership, aimed at bolstering our close partnership and stepping up security co-operation in the Indo-Pacific,” said a statement issued by the British High Commission.

India-UK free trade agreement

PM Modi and PM Johnson will also give a push to ongoing talks on the proposed India-UK free trade agreement (FTA), and finalise a deadline for signing an interim deal.

The FTA negotiations began in 2021, after the UK expressed its intentions to sign a trade pact with India in 2017 post its exit from the European Union.  

“He (UK PM) will use the visit to drive progress in the Free Trade Agreement negotiations launched earlier this year a deal with India is predicted to boost our total trade by up to £28 billion annually by 2035 and increase wages across the UK by up to £3 billion,” said the British High Commission’s statement.

It also said: “The UK is leveraging post-Brexit trade opportunities with India’s growing economy to drive down prices in key commodities for consumers, open opportunities for UK businesses in areas like green tech and services, and create high-wage, high-skill jobs. Investment from Indian companies already supports 95,000 jobs across the UK, which is expected to be boosted by upcoming announcements and a future free trade deal.”

This is the reason why Johnson, upon landing in India, will head straight to Ahmedabad to meet the business community there on Thursday.

“In Gujarat, the Prime Minister is expected to announce major investment in key industries in both the UK and India, boosting jobs and growth at home, as well as new collaboration on cutting-edge science, health and technology,” the British High Commission said.

Investment from Indian companies already supports 95,000 jobs across the UK, which is expected to be boosted by upcoming announcements and a future free trade deal, according to the British government.

(Edited by Gitanjali Das)

Also Read: At review summit with Modi, Australian PM raises Russia’s ‘unlawful’ invasion of Ukraine


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