INTERNATIONAL / SECURITY
Topic: General Studies 2:
- Effect of policies and politics of developed and developing countries on India’s interests.
India is right to bet on a post-Brexit UK
Context: India recently invited the United Kingdom (UK)’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson as chief guest for Republic Day 2021.
The visit will take place less than a month after the UK leaves the European Union — with or without a deal. The timing and occasion of the visit signals intent on both sides to develop a genuine partnership.
For decades, India-UK relations remained suboptimal because neither side was invested in truly understanding what the other valued. Some of the reasons that led to suboptimal relationship are
- Kashmir Issue: In India, London’s motivations were — incorrectly — viewed as a former colonial power’s (UK) desire to weigh in on regional issues such as Kashmir by tilting towards Pakistan.
- Post-Study Work Permit: London scrapped the post-study work permit for international students which led to a sharp drop in Indian student numbers between 2013-17, even as Chinese student numbers swelled based on special visa arrangements. This trend is now reversing as the post-study work permit has been reintroduced.
- Afghan War: In UK, India’s lack of appreciation for the UK’s security concerns about troops in Afghanistan and radicalisation at home — both of which necessitate a security partnership with Pakistan — remained an irritant.
- Military Purchases: India’s 2012 decision to purchase the French Dassault Rafale over the UK’s Eurofighter Typhoon fighter jet increased the estrangement
- Brexit: London became busy in its domestic political turmoil and bureaucratic transitions. But whenever it did express interest to augment the relationship, New Delhi refused citing Brexit-related uncertainties.
- Economic reasons: India has shied away from FTA given London’s emphasis on easy capital flows to and from India, which would hit Indian producers and retailers hard, without entertaining India’s reciprocal demand for liberal labour flows.
PM Johnson’s visit offers an opportunity for a reset.
- Signing FTAs: Though difficult to achieve in the short-term, both countries have an incentive to explore the viability of a Free Trade Agreement (FTA). With both the economies under stress due to the pandemic, they have an incentive to revisit the irritants in signing the FTA.
- Alternative to RCEP: Trade Agreement with UK offer an alternative as India seeks to reduce economic linkages with China. India’s decision to stay out of RCEP will help capitalise on British, and European, economic overtures
- China Factor: In addition to economic incentives, London’s sharp downturn in relations with Beijing since the introduction of the draconian national security law in Hong Kong imparts strategic synergy to India-UK relations
- UK’s Foreign Policy: The UK’s Integrated Review of Security, Defence, Development, and Foreign Policy 2021 has indicated that London must tilt towards the Indo-Pacific. The aim is to augment the UK’s presence in the Indian Ocean Region and work with powers such as India, Japan, and Australia, along with the EU and the US, to counter China.
- Vaccine Development: India remains a top global exporter of raw materials for the pharmaceutical industry and will play an important role in the mass production of the Covid-19 vaccine.
- Collaboration in sectors such as digital technology, the climate crisis, and vaccine development will also see a fillip if both countries sign FTA and collaborate together.
There are miles to go before this partnership realises its true potential, but it is set to become “poll-proof” as India bets on a post-Brexit UK