The UK is falling behind in the global race to engage with a rising India. Despite strong ties across investment, education and culture—and a shared commitment to democracy and to the rules-based international order—the relationship is not fulfilling its potential. India’s place in the world is changing fast, and UK strategy has not yet adjusted to this new reality. As the UK prepares to leave the EU, it is time to reset this relationship. We cannot afford to be complacent or rely on historical connections to deliver a modern partnership. The Government needs to adapt its strategy to India’s enhanced influence, doing more to recognise and respond to New Delhi’s priorities. Above all, these are to gain influence on the global stage, and to raise living standards at home.
Facilitating the movement of people is fundamental to the goal of an enhanced partnership. UK migration policy has at times undercut our broader strategic objectives for the relationship—while the Global Britain strategy is not being heard clearly in India, the “hostile environment” message is getting through. Movement between the UK and India is what builds the living bridge, and students ensure it will remain strong long into the future.
India’s place in the world is shifting not just in economic weight, but—rightly—in status, ambition and role in global affairs. The UK and India’s convergence of interests in the Indian Ocean region offers an opportunity to develop closer ties on defence and security. Our efforts to build links with China, and partner with Chinese infrastructure projects in the region, should not be pursued at the expense of ties with India. While our relationship with Beijing is undoubtedly important, the depth of shared values between the UK and India make New Delhi a vital strategic partner for the future.
While the UK and India’s international interests are not always aligned, they are based on similar principles. We will often be on the same side in a world in transition. There is a growing mismatch between India’s global importance and its place in the multilateral system. It is in the UK’s interest to help India gain the status it seeks—if China wants to change the rules of the game, India is seeking a seat at the table. In a world threatened by autocratic states with contempt for the rules-based international system, it is more important than ever before that the UK and India support each other—and our mutual allies.
Published: 24 June 2019