India UK Relations and its challenges – Explained, Pointwise


India and UK relations have deep historical connections. Both countries have maintained cordial relations since the Independence of India. But both of them struggled to realize their full potential due to various issues and prejudices. The recent developments like Brexit and the Covid-19 pandemic provide an opportunity for a fresh start in India UK relations.

Recently a much-awaited and long-scheduled summit between the Prime Ministers of India and Britain confirmed to occur digitally. Apart from this, a Group of Seven ministerial meetings in London is also scheduled this week. The foreign minister of India will participate in this summit. Similarly, Britain PM recently confirmed the schedule of the “Group of Seven Plus Three” physical summit Next month in London. These summits might rejuvenate India-UK relations to a new high.

Potential opportunities between India and UK relations
  1. The UK recently exited from the European Union. The European Parliament has approved the final ratification of the Trade and Cooperation Agreement(TCA) Between the UK and the EU recently. So, the UK is now looking for building partnerships bilaterally.  Further, Britain is also tilting to the Indo-Pacific region. So India is a natural ally for the UK in the region.
  2. India and UK can exchange their shared knowledge in controlling the Covid-19 Pandemic. Further, the UK has restricted the Covid-19 wave in the UK. India can also get help from the UK for control strategies, export of medical oxygen, resilient medical supply chains, etc.
  3. Also, a new British Council report suggests great opportunities for India and the UK if they engage in a stronger relationship.
  4. Further, India and Britain may explore an agreement on “migration and mobility” to facilitate the legal movement of Indians into Britain.
  5. The UK can also contribute to the strengthening of India’s domestic defence industrial base.
  6. Apart from that, both India and UK committed to find a common ground on climate change. So, there is a lot of potential for bilateral cooperation in Climate Change mitigation.
Present Status of India UK Bilateral relations
  1. Bilateral trade: The bilateral trade between the two countries stood at 15.5 billion USD in 2019-20. India has engaged with the UK in sectors like pharma, textiles, leather, industrial machinery, furniture, and toys.
    • Britain is among the top investors in India and India is the second-biggest investor and a major job creator in Britain. Recently, the Serum Institute of India has announced setting up its research facilities in the UK.
  2. Indian Diaspora: Around 1.5 million people of Indian origin live in Britain. This includes 15 Members of Parliament, three members in Cabinet, and two in high office as Finance and Home Ministers.
  3. Educational relations: The UK-India Education and Research Initiative (UKIERI) was launched in 2005. A new “UKEIRI Mobility Programme: Study in Indiawas also launched in 2019. Under this Britain’s universities collaborate with Indian partners and send UK students to India.
    • Almost 30,000 Indians study in Britain regardless of limited opportunities for post-graduation employment.
  4. Both India and UK jointly launched the UK-India Tech partnership in 2018. The partnership aims to generate significant investment and support the creation of thousands of new jobs across the UK.  
  5. Medical collaborations: According to the British High Commission, India supplies over 50 percent of the world’s vaccines and 25 percent of Britain’s National Health Service’s (NHS) generic drugs. This facilitated India and UK to launch a Virtual Vaccines Hub. The hub aims to distribute vaccines for Covid-19 and other deadly viruses.
    • Recently, the Serum Institute of India said that it will invest Rs 2,400 crore in the UK. This investment is aimed at supporting clinical trials, research and development and possibly manufacturing of vaccines in UK.  
  6. Geopolitical collaborations: The UK identified the Indian Ocean as a vital area of potential development. Further, the UK so far supported India’s entry into the UN Security council.
Challenges in India UK relations
  1. Issues associated with BrexitThere are many challenges associated with the UK’s exit from the EU. Such as,
    • Impact on Indian Companies: There are more than 800 Indian companies in the UK. They have commercial contact with India and traded with the EU as the UK was within the EU. But after the Brexit, their trade ties with the EU impacted directly. This in turn affected exports from India to the EU.
    • Stagnancy in the relations: For the past five years India-UK relations are stagnant due to Britain’s Brexit and associated trade agreement with the EU.
  2. Impact of illegal migrants: There are more than 1 lakh of illegal Indian immigrants in the UK. The UK government so far put pressure on Indians to sending back. But both India and UK not yet signed the migration and mobility agreement.
  3. Anti-colonial resentment against Britain: India still suffers from the legacy of Partition. Such as the problem with Pakistan and the issue of Kashmir. For example, the Labour Foreign Secretary who travelled with Queen Elizabeth for India’s 50th anniversary of Independence in 1997 mentioned self-determination for Kashmiris. In return, then Indian Prime Minister I K Gujral accused Britain of creating the Kashmir problem in the first place. 
  4. The closeness of the UK to Pakistan and China: Few Indian observers view the UK as overly sympathetic to Pakistan. Similarly, Parliamentary Inquiry Report highlighted that India will face strict and tough visa norms than China. This closeness of the UK to China and Pakistan make India UK relations a distant one.
  5. Cairn Energy issue: The ruling of the arbitration court favoured Cairn Energy PLC. This marks an end to the long-running dispute between Cairn Energy PLC and the Indian government. But the future investments from the UK to India demands timely and logical settlement of the Industrial dispute.
  6. Influence of Labour Party on bilateral relations: The Labour Party in Britain still have hardcore policies and ideals of British India. They even protest on many occasions against India’s interest. For example,
    • The recent protests at the Indian High Commission in London over the Article 370 move in Jammu and Kashmir, and the Citizenship (Amendment) Act.
    • The UK’s concerns about the farmers’ protests
Suggestions to improve India UK relations
  1. India is one of the fastest-growing large economies of the world. But despite that the level of India UK relations in trade is limited. So, both India and UK should negotiate a free trade deal.  The trade deal should include,
    • Timely and logical settlement of the Industrial dispute between both the nations.
    • The agreement should facilitate enhancement of bilateral trade
    • A detailed assessment from time to time to improve the trade ties without waiting for another FTA.
  2. The UK should live up to its commitment to the extradition of Indian fugitives. For example, recently U.K.’s Home Department approves the extradition of Nirav Modi to India. However, the extradition will happen only when the UK’s cabinet minister approves this order. So the UK minister has to approve the order.
  3. The UK should take care for ensuring stronger ties with China and Pakistan are not at the expense of a deeper partnership with India. This will improve India UK relations further.
  4. Both India and the UK can improve their bilateral relationship by
    • Improving security and defence cooperation,
    • Conducting joint exercises of Military
    • Collaborate with each other in reforming multilateral institutes such as WTO reforms, UN reforms, etc.
  5. The Oxford/AstraZeneca’s voluntary licensing arrangement with Serum Institute of India to produce the Covishield vaccine is a significant achievement in bilateral relations. Both countries can use this to improve relations in the future.

A new chapter in the India-UK relationship will necessarily involve two things. One, the UK’s more sensitiveness to India’s concerns. Two, India’s less sensitiveness when the UK expresses its concerns. This will happen when both countries move away from relying on historical connections to the modern dynamic partnership.

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