Shackles and ties: On transition period of U.K.'s exit from EU

With the transition period of the U.K.’s exit from the EU (or Brexit) ending this month, the Boris Johnson government is beginning to firm up its partnerships outside its region, and British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab’s Delhi visit came with a declaration of immediate and longer-term goals for the India-U.K. relationship. His visit was also to prepare the way for Prime Minister Johnson’s India visit, as the chief guest at Republic Day, and to invite Prime Minister Narendra Modi to the U.K. to the G-7 and the Climate Change (COP26) summits next year. Mr. Johnson will be the first head of government to visit India after the spread of COVID-19; this will also be his first bilateral visit anywhere after Brexit, signalling the importance India and the U.K. give to this chapter in ties. In what he called a “ten-year” road map for relations, Mr. Raab discussed with External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar and Mr. Modi the upgrading of the 2004 India-U.K. Strategic Partnership to a “Comprehensive” Strategic Partnership, which will envision closer military ties, cooperation in Indo-Pacific strategies, counter-terrorism and fighting climate change. Now out of the EU, Britain is on a mission to secure free trade partners, and after wrapping up nearly 20 trade deals, including most recently with the U.S., Japan, and Vietnam that will take effect from January 1, Mr. Johnson would hope to announce the start of talks on an India FTA during his visit. The highlight of India’s relations in the next year will be closer cooperation on the coronavirus vaccine, with the Serum Institute set to produce and distribute the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine in India, and then as part of the COVAX project to other developing countries.

The turn of a new page in ties, stagnant for the past five years due to Britain’s Brexit preoccupation, is welcome. The relationship has failed to progress in this time, despite visits by Mr. Modi and former British Prime Minister Theresa May. As a result, less important issues such as visas and the fate of fugitive Indian businessmen in the U.K. have been allowed to dominate the narrative. Over the past year, the MEA had responded sharply to protests at the Indian High Commission in London over the Article 370 move in Jammu and Kashmir, and the Citizenship (Amendment) Act. This month it was Britain’s concerns about the farmers’ protests that sparked responses in New Delhi about interference in India’s internal matters. Mr. Raab’s explanation that, sometimes, intense interest from the British Indian diaspora makes Indian politics a factor in British politics is a reminder of how closely linked the two countries remain. A new chapter in their post-COVID-19, post-Brexit relationship would necessarily entail the U.K. to be more sensitive to India’s concerns, and for India to be less sensitive when Britain expresses its concerns.

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Printable version | Dec 5, 2021 11:28:14 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/editorial/shackles-and-ties-on-transition-period-of-uks-exit-from-eu/article33358229.ece

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