London: External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar left London at the end of a four-day visit to the UK on Friday with a message of convergence as the two countries agreed on an ambitious ‘2030 Roadmap’ towards a Free Trade Agreement (FTA).
Addressing a virtual event titled ‘India and the United Kingdom in a Post-COVID World’ at the Policy Exchange think tank in London on Thursday evening, the minister reviewed the redefined contours of the UK-India relationship in the wake of the Virtual Summit between Prime Ministers Narendra Modi and Boris Johnson earlier in the week.
He reflected on the context of the COVID-19 pandemic giving the bilateral ties a greater urgency for an overdue “upgrade”.
“Our Prime Ministers held a virtual summit that has truly redefined the contours of our relationship. They agreed on an ambitious roadmap for 2030 that sets forth their vision of cooperation in great detail,” said Jaishankar.
“Underlying this exercise is a larger convergence at how we look at the world and grapple with issues that both nations deal with everyday. This is expressed in our working together in defence and security, in undertaking climate action and development partnerships, in responding to terrorism and radicalisation, or indeed, in how we approach pandemics and cyber challenges,” he said.
From India’s viewpoint, the minister highlighted the many UKs that it seeks to engage simultaneously: the Global Britain, the Atlantic UK, the European one after Brexit, the City of London, the non-London UK, the diaspora one, the innovation and education UK, and the strategic and historical UKs.
“Given the rebalancing and multipolarity that characterises the contemporary world order, it is natural for two powers such as us to explore greater convergence.
“That we have a shared past, may sometimes be a mixed blessing; but vision and will can certainly help put it to good use. The more objectively the two nations perceive each other’s role and contribution in the larger arena, the stronger is the case for a serious strategic relationship,” he said.
On a note of caution, he added: “We are complementary societies and economies who each have strengths relevant to the other. Bringing them together more effectively is to our mutual advantage. A ”Global UK” is probably more likely to do so than its previous incarnation, just as a ”New India” is more forward looking than previously.
“In that sense, we could be ready to approach each other with clearer heads and fresher eyes to realise a shared set of goals in a more turbulent world. But these will not be without challenges, because convergence is still not congruence. Our own inhibitions will be a factor, as also perhaps the growing complexity of world politics.”
UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab also addressed the event, which marked the conclusion of Jaishankar’s visit as his guest at the G7 Foreign and Development Ministers Meeting – which Jaishankar largely conducted virtually following coronavirus exposure within the Indian delegation.
Referring to him as “Jai”, Raab reiterated their close friendship as the political guardians of the 2030 Roadmap signed between the two prime ministers.
“I am not sure who’s the greater control freak – we like lists and deadlines and schedules and we both want to make this mean something; be the political guardians of this process and make sure the trade negotiations are kept on track,” said Raab.
“It is telling how many British Indians we have around the Cabinet table. I am not saying that they have biased Britain’s foreign policy but I do think they breathe life into it,” he noted, in reference to the likes of Chancellor Rishi Sunak and Home Secretary Priti Patel as senior Indian-origin ministers in the UK government.
Describing India as a “technologically endowed high trust partner”, Raab declared the 2030 Roadmap a “massive thing” with a set of tangible elements and deliverables to take the UK-India relationship to the level that has been aspired to for many years.
“An important aspect of the Indo-Pacific tilt was to put rocket boosters under Britain’s relationship with India,” he said.