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Boris Johnson in India – the sticking point of Immigration

Boris Johnson in India – the sticking point of Immigration

The British Prime Minister has spent a few days in India. Johnson met his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi.

Johnson is keen to ensure cordial relations with India. The United Kingdom and all NATO countries were disappointed to see India abstain from voting on the UN Resolution denouncing Russia's invasion of Ukraine. London would also like to boost trade with India. The United Kingdom had left the European Union in 2020.

Boris Johnson promised his people that this would lead to better commercial opportunities for the UK. But this has not materialised, and little benefit has been felt from Brexit. The UK would like to see India lower tariffs on British products. Despite a trading relationship dating back to 1600, current trade between India and the UK is tiny. Belgium trades more with India than the United Kingdom does. The UK would like Scotch whisky to be taxed less heavily in India.

On the other hand, India will ask for quid pro quo on trade. Moreover, New Delhi wants to see an easing of the visa regime. Already, 4% of the UK is ethnically India. In cities like London and Manchester, it is much higher than 4%. The youthful British Indian community is growing fast.

India wants to make it easier for Indians to obtain work visas for the United Kingdom. There are some work visas for highly talented people who are doctors, IT specialists, bankers and suchlike. In 2021, 60 000 of them were issued to Indians. That is more than half of all such visas issued.

The trouble for Johnson is that the UK left the EU partly to reduce immigration. In 2016, immigration to the United Kingdom was net 350,000 per annum. Half of this was from the EU. Immigration is now down to about 200,000 per annum. If the UK is to attain a more favourable trade deal with India, then it needs to accept more immigration from India. This will not play well with Johnson's Conservative voters, who believe that immigration is already excessive.

The British Indian community was heavily Labour Party-leaning. But the increasingly affluent British Indians are tending more and more towards Johnson's Conservative Party. The visit to India was partly an attempt to woo the UK Indian community. Note that Indians in the UK can vote in British elections even if they are not British citizens. All Commonwealth citizens resident in the United Kingdom can vote in UK elections, even if they are in the UK only for educational purposes or a temporary work visa.

Johnson visited a JCB factory. JCB is named after its British, founder, Joseph Cyril Bamford. Bamford made diggers and other such construction vehicles. Johnson would like India to manufacture and purchase more of these machines.

The optics from Johnson's visit have been good. There have been no thorny issues raised. Johnson did not press Prime Minister Modi on human rights issues. Modi did not demand preparatory payments for the imperial epoch, nor did he broach the Jallianwala Bagh issue.

For Johnson, his trip to India is a welcome diversion from his domestic travails. Because his administration is scandal-struck, he endeavours to spend as much time overseas as possible. He wishes to play the world statesman, and to distract attention from his shortcomings at home. He is much more warmly received in India than in the British Parliament.

The author is a political analyst based in the UK. Please look at George Callaghan's YouTube channel ''George from Ireland.''

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TAGS:Boris Johnson's India visitUK VisasEmigration to UK
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