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How Suella Braverman has put India-UK free trade deal on the verge of collapse

How Suella Braverman has put India-UK free trade deal on the verge of collapse

India-UK free trade agreement: What was touted as a landmark agreement between the UK and India, is now hanging by a slim thread. Here's what transpired.

The trade deal, the Migration and Mobility Partnership (MMP), was agreed upon by former Indian-origin Home Secretary Priti Patel, and External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar in May last year. The trade deal, the Migration and Mobility Partnership (MMP), was agreed upon by former Indian-origin Home Secretary Priti Patel, and External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar in May last year.

India-UK free trade agreement (FTA) is hanging in a balance after Britain’s Indian-origin Home Secretary Suella Braverman's recent remarks. Braverman had flagged her concerns about visa overstayers from India in an interview. 

What did Braverman say?

Braverman said that she feared a trade deal with India would increase migration to the UK when Indians already represented the largest group of visa overstayers. “Look at migration in this country – the largest group of people who overstay are Indian migrants,” Braverman had said.

“I have concerns about having an open borders migration policy with India because I don’t think that’s what people voted for with Brexit," she told ‘The Spectator’ weekly news magazine.

“We even reached an agreement with the Indian government last year to encourage and facilitate better cooperation in this regard. It has not necessarily worked very well,” she added.

How has India reacted to Braverman's statement?

India is clearly upset with Braverman's statement. UK-based The Times newspaper has reported, quoting Indian government sources, that ministers in India were “shocked and disappointed" by the “disrespectful" remarks made by Braverman. Also, a report in Politico claims that Prime Minister Narendra Modi's UK visit during Diwali to sign the FTA is now not likely to happen.

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Moreover, some on social media have pointed out that the Indian High Commission's new rule in the UK that requires British citizens to attend visa centres in-person is retaliation to Braverman's comments.

Is Braverman's statement UK's official stand?

No. British Prime Minister Liz Truss's spokesman on Wednesday said Britain still wants to agree on a free trade deal with India by Diwali later this month. On Thursday, British foreign minister James Cleverly said Britain wanted to have an even stronger trading relationship with India after reports that remarks by a fellow minister about Indian immigrants could put a future deal in doubt.
When asked about the comments made by Braverman about Indian migrants in Britain and the possible impact, Cleverly said: "We do want to have an even stronger, and it's strong already, but an even stronger trading, relationship with India."

How did India and the UK get close to signing the deal?

The trade deal, the Migration and Mobility Partnership (MMP), was agreed upon by former Indian-origin Home Secretary Priti Patel, and External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar in May last year. The deal, which was touted as a landmark agreement between the Government of India and the UK, was projected to provide new opportunities to thousands of young people in the UK and India seeking to live, work and experience each other's cultures.  
The interim deal between the two countries was supposed to increase bilateral trade, ease the movement of people between the two countries and make Scotch whisky much cheaper to import. India, on the other hand, wanted easier access to Britain’s high-technology industries and financial markets and the end of tough visa restrictions on travel to the UK.  

Indians have also consistently topped the charts of highly skilled migrants issued visas to live and work in the UK. 

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According to the latest Home Office data, around 118,000 Indian students received a UK student visa in the year ending June 2022 – an 89 per cent increase from the previous year. 

Reacting on visa flexibility for students and entrepreneurs under an India-UK FTA, Braverman said: “But I do have some reservations. Look at migration in this country – the largest group of people who overstay are Indian migrants."

“We even reached an agreement with the Indian government last year to encourage and facilitate better cooperation in this regard. It has not necessarily worked very well," she had further added. 

(With inputs from agencies)

Published on: Oct 13, 2022, 1:34 PM IST
Posted by: Basudha Das, Oct 13, 2022, 1:18 PM IST