global britain

Is ‘Global Britain’ inimical to India?

There are disturbing signals from both segments of British polity and civil society. India will need to assess the UK’s position carefully

As the United Kingdom (UK) charts its global path in the post-Brexit era, signals about India emanating from there have been overshadowed by news about the havoc that the new strain of Covid-19 is causing. Yet, the signs are unmistakable.

In India, not many have connected the dots, dismissing them as trivial pursuits of distant politicians, primarily from the Opposition Labour Party, pandering to their constituents. Can there be more to this?

Enter Chatham House. The century-old institution is formally known as the Royal Institute of International Affairs. An independent policy institute, it draws the name from its location — an 18th-century building, which was occupied in the past by several British prime ministers. One of its three current Presidents is a former Prime Minister — John Major. Chatham House reports are a vital resource for leaders and influence policymakers in the UK government, the private sector and civil society. A recent offering, Global Britain, Global Broker, authored by long-time director and chief executive, Robin Niblett, offers a plethora of recommendations about the UK’s future global role.

However, from an Indian perspective, of considerably more interest is what the report suggests the UK should do and not do as it strives towards change. India, which describes ties with the UK as a “strategic partnership”, is portrayed as a “rival” or “at best, an awkward counterpart” on par with Russia, Turkey and Saudi Arabia. While the UK’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson has invited India to the G7 Summit in June, the report weighs in against Johnson’s idea of enlarging the G7 into a “Democratic 10” or D10 comprising the G7 nations plus Australia, India and South Korea.

The report lists “two recent UK humiliations at the UN – its failure to win a seat on the International Court of Justice in the election of judges in 2017, and defeat in a vote over the fate of the Chagos Islands in May 2019 ” as warnings of a future where Britain could find itself squeezed to the margins of international negotiations or picked on by groups of states as a way of sending messages to others. Left unsaid is that India played a role in both cases.

Now that we are forewarned, we can look towards both the G7 Summit and the key climate meeting of Conference of the Parties 26 that the UK hosts in 2021. Besides, Johnson intends to visit India before that. These engagements will provide ample opportunities for India to assess how honest a broker “Global Britain” will be.