PM Boris Johnson to use 'personal' Modi connect for 'new and improved' India-UK ties

Published: Jul 23, 2019, 18:02 IST | PTI

The 55-year-old senior Tory MP had made a special effort to reach out to the Indian diaspora base of the party during the month-long leadership race

PM Boris Johnson to use 'personal' Modi connect for 'new and improved' India-UK ties
Boris Johnson

London: Boris Johnson, the new British Prime Minister, is expected to rely on his declared personal connect with Prime Minister Narendra Modi to deliver a "truly special" UK-India relationship and strike a "new and improved" trading relationship.

The 55-year-old senior Tory MP, who is seen as the face of Brexit for the ruling Conservative Party, had made a special effort to reach out to the Indian diaspora base of the party during the month-long leadership race and pledged not only closer trade ties but also easier access for Indian professionals and students.

Johnson, the former foreign secretary and London Mayor, on Tuesday, beat foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt in the race to be crowned the new Conservative Party leader, amid the political uncertainty over the country's divorce deal with the European Union.

"Boris is committed to securing a new and improved trading relationship with our friends in India and ensuring that the values we share 'the rule of law, democracy and dynamic entrepreneurial spirit should be at the heart of one of our most important partners on the global stage," said Priti Patel, one of the senior-most Indian-origin Tory MPs who is expected to be a part of the new premier's ministerial team as a key member of the 'Back Boris' campaign.

In a letter earlier this month, Johnson had played up his 'personal relationship with Prime Minister Modi' as he promised to deliver a "truly special UK-India relationship".

"When I was with Prime Minister Modi, I stressed that the UK and India are two modern democracies who should work closely together to promote trade and prosperity, improve global security and tackle the challenges our countries face,'Johnson wrote in an open letter addressed to the Indian diaspora Tory membership base.

'If I am elected Conservative Party Leader and Prime Minister, I will work closely with our friends in the Indian Government, business and society to deliver a truly special UK-India relationship,' he said.

In keeping with his firm pro-Brexit stance and determination to leave the European Union (EU) by the October 31 deadline, the senior Tory MP branded it a "travesty" that the 28-member economic bloc had failed to treat free trade agreement (FTA) talks with India as a priority for over a decade.

He said: "One of the most important reasons why we need to leave the European Union on October 31, 2019, is so that we can take back control over our trade policy. India is an economic powerhouse and set to become the third-largest economy by the middle of the century, with annual economic growth far outpacing the EU."

"The sooner we leave the EU and take back control of our trade policy, the sooner we can strike a new trade deal with India that will deliver new jobs, growth and prosperity for both our countries. Securing this new and improved trading relationship with our friends in India will be a priority for me."

The former Mayor of London, who has in the past described himself as a 'son-in-law of India' by virtue of his now estranged wife Marina Wheeler's Indian mother, Dip Kaur, stressed that the UK's relationship with India must run deeper than just trade.

"We share so many values with India 'the rule of law, democracy, and dynamic entrepreneurial spirit' and I believe that is why India should be one of our most important partners on the global stage," he said.

He also plugged his proposals for a so-called "Australian-style points-based system" of immigration, which would ensure "friends, family members and business contacts in India do not face undue discrimination or barriers when seeking to work, travel or study in the UK".

During the course of the leadership electoral hustings, Johnson expressed his disappointment at UK retailers like Sainsbury's and Waitrose not being able to set up base in India and said he would 'like to see India opening up to more of our great brands'.

He has in the past also made several interventions over the high duties imposed by India on Scotch whisky. These are likely to feature on his agenda in terms of any new trade talks with India.

"India is a massive static market for the UK, but I would also like to see India opening up to more of our great brands. In India Sainsbury's can't set up, they have no Waitrose in India. Just imagine that," he had said, in his characteristic style of mock incredulity.

"Trade with China has gone up about 45 per cent in the last ten years. Trade with India has not increased, actually I think volumes have remained almost static. We need to do far more," he noted.

Johnson is set to take formal charge at Downing Street on Wednesday after Theresa May hands in her resignation to Queen Elizabeth II at Buckingham Palace. May, who stepped down over her failed Brexit strategy, has been functioning as a caretaker Prime Minister during the course of the leadership election.

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