India UK Relationship: Boris Johnson’s return will bring stability. This may give India an opening.
The United Kingdom (UK) will leave the European Union (EU) early next year. With the Conservatives winning by a landslide in the national poll, the four-year Brexit drama is over, bar the parliamentary vote. The election was treated as a second referendum on Brexit. By giving the Conservative Party a resounding majority, the British voter has made it clear it prefers divorce to endless marriage counselling. Prime Minister Boris Johnson has the mandate to complete what he, one of the first mainstream voices to declare that Britain would leave the EU, can claim to have started.
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India privately regretted the original referendum result, believing it would contribute to international disorder. Today, New Delhi welcomes the end to Brexit uncertainty. The many Indian firms who have invested in Britain will not be unhappy. The Brexit that Mr Johnson worked out with Brussels preserves a customs union across the English Channel, the primary concern of Indian investors. Travel will be an issue, though Mr Johnson’s points-based immigration system is likely to work in favour of Indians. New Delhi should take the opportunity provided by Brexit and Mr Johnson’s desire for post-EU trade arrangements to negotiate a suitable free trade arrangement.
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India must also recognise how this fundamentally changes its relations with Britain. New Delhi has traditionally treated London as its gateway to the rest of Europe. It cannot do so any more. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government has already begun reaching out to the continent, including the Nordics and Central Europeans. India’s relations with Britain have dipped, with London’s Brexit distractions, a declining British strategic footprint in Asia, and, most recently, sharp differences over India’s new Kashmir policy. With the eclipse of Labour and a new blue-water profile for Britain, the time is ripe for renewed engagement.