The visit of the UK Prime Minister Theresa May to India from 6-8 November heralded a rewarding new chapter in Britain’s international relations. Following Brexit and in an effort to muster up business deals for the UK, the visit focused on:
Interacting with small-to- medium enterprises rather than larger companies
Creation of the “Great Club” and expedited removal of illegal immigrants
Aerospace and Cyber technology
Creation of £600 million worth of masala bonds
A strategy heralding accelerated ties to supplement Europe post Brexit.
It was a major moment for UK as it was the first state visit by the PM after the stunning Brexit referendum result. She described India as one of Britain’s ‘’closest friends’’.
This highlights the importance that London places on Delhi as a valued partner in an increasingly unstable world, as well as the rapid development of an important new trading relationship which is more multifaceted and technology focused. This substantive visit built effectively on the foundations of years of outreach to India by the Conservatives, starting with David Cameron in 2010.
In contrast to her predecessor, Mrs May took mostly small and medium enterprise representatives with her. It suggests that Britain is learning from previous experiences. Perhaps the structure of the Indian system makes it easier for SME’s to do business there. Whatever the reason, lots of small scale trades between SME’s and the Indian market may be more beneficial to expand trade significantly than relying on large companies that have to navigate the massive bureaucracy in India.
Trade last year alone stood at a substantial £16 billion. There is more coming as the engagement with India increases.
The shadow of tight immigration controls hung over much of the early discussion. The British state has the difficult task of controlling immigration in response to public sentiment while still accommodating the visa requests of skilled people from emerging powers such as India.
Mrs May showed commendable flexibility in this regard. The creation of a ‘Great Club’ with easier visa access to eminent Indian businessmen was a practical diplomatic step that reflected the growing contributions by Indians to the UK’ economic growth. In return it was not an unreasonable step to ask India to take more illegal immigrants back quicker in an expedited step, which Mr Modi agreed to.
The India-UK relationship is still developing and the future is exciting with regard to economic growth and bilateral trade. There is great potential for further growth in aerospace, space research and cyber security, and with its’ fast growing software industry India is well placed to partner with Britain.
They also have important geopolitical connotations. Many of these areas have strong overlaps with the ongoing fight against terrorism for example. Cyber security and aerospace have important roles to play here.
They can help disrupt terrorist network and contribute to security efforts. India and the UK agreed to co-operate on a cyber security framework to tackle online radicalisation.
Other key areas included the provision of £600 million in new masala bonds to help the Indian government raise money on the British financial markets to develop infrastructure. This demonstrates the qualitatively different focus in Indian-British relations. As Mrs May said, Britain will not take India for granted any more.
A new more flexible approach has been adopted which avoids controversies over aid, focusing instead on the development of a holistic technological support for Indian development. Of course this comes with great advantages for Great Britain, as it will expand the size of the Indian middle class and therefore the consumer market which the British have access to.
Mrs May’s visit to India is the beginning of a new relationship focusing on substantial technology related deals which have relevance to the growth of both powers. It builds on the good work done in previous bilateral engagements. India may one day be the number one strategic partner for Britain.
This underlines the pivotal strategic importance of this visit. As India rises and Britain grows again outside of the EU the future is bright for the relationship between both.