Building Bridges: Reawakening UK-India ties Contents

2A special relationship?

4.The UK and India share much in common. A long and sometimes painful history has brought us together through language, culture, and legal systems. These factors, along with close ties in investment and education, and the presence of 1.45 million people of Indian heritage in the UK, mean that the countries have a deep connection.

5.Although Minister of State for Asia and the Pacific Mark Field told us that the UK-India relationship was “now a relationship of equals”,3 the evidence we received suggests that the Indian government does not necessarily see it the same way. While the last two British Prime Ministers have been quick to visit New Delhi, and the FCO has said that the country is “central” to its aspirations for “Global Britain”,4 Prime Minister Modi travelled to more than 20 other countries—including Ireland, France, Canada, Japan, Australia, and China—before visiting the UK.5 He said in 2018 that “the day is not far when [the] Indian economy will overtake Britain’s,” an event now expected this year (see graph, below).6

6.The UK has failed to give this relationship the attention it deserves. The Foreign Secretary told us that the relationship had “not got near our full potential” despite the extent of the shared values.7 The Permanent Under-Secretary of the FCO told us that the UK’s foreign policy priorities are “our neighbourhood, including the Middle East and Russia; the far east, particularly China; and the United States”—a list that does not include India.8 Minister Field told us that “we do not try to pick winners” in Asia, contrasting the UK’s approach with that of other countries that are “more in the India than the China camp”.9 We heard evidence that the UK has fallen behind other countries when it comes to India’s global trade ties, international students, tourism, technology entrepreneurs, and defence industry—all fast-growing sectors. Some witnesses told us that, while an older generation in India still see the UK as a natural partner, many young people look first to countries such as the US.10 British-Indian entrepreneur Lord Bilimoria said that the relationship was at its lowest point in his 15 years of working on bilateral initiatives.11 The current Foreign Secretary has not yet visited India, though he told us he was hoping to visit in late 2018 or early 2019.12

7.Witnesses identified the shortcomings of the UK’s strategy and suggested ways to address it. Prime Ministers May and Cameron both failed to think “enough about the relationship India wants with us”, according to Sir Simon Fraser, former Permanent Under-Secretary at the FCO.13 The UK now has an opportunity to improve the relationship by addressing these shortcomings. As Professor Kate Sullivan de Estrada put it: “we have a tendency to think, ‘What will Washington think about this policy decision? [ … ] I do not think that we are asking yet, ‘What will New Delhi think?’”.14 Former High Commissioner to India Sir James Bevan told us that a key step in improving the relationship would be to “listen as well as talk” and do “practical things with the Indians that matter to them”.15 India’s foreign policy is being shaped by two priorities: gaining the influence it deserves in global affairs, and raising living standards at home.16 The following sections will consider how these issues play out in terms of economic ties and movement of people, security and defence, and global governance structures.

8.The Government is failing to make the most of this country’s extensive ties with India: the bilateral relationship is strong, but falls short of its huge potential. The Government cannot afford to be complacent or rely on historical connections to deliver a modern partnership. The UK needs to adjust its strategy to India’s enhanced influence and power: we should do more to respond to India’s priorities, and should communicate our own objectives more clearly. As the UK leaves the EU, our foreign policy priorities will change. One change should be enhancing our relationship with India: as a practical and symbolic start to resetting that relationship, we encourage the Foreign Secretary to visit India as soon as possible, and certainly before the end of 2019.

3 Q186 [Minister Field]

4 Memorandum from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, March 2018 in Global Britain, HC 780, Foreign Affairs Committee, 12 March 2018

5 UK India Business Council (GBI0018), para 8; Bridge India (GBI0029)

6 India to overtake UK in IMF global economic rankings, Financial Times, 19 December 2018; Economy on track, India set to overtake UK, says PM Narendra Modi, The Indian Express, 1 October 2018
Data from: World Bank via Google Public Data, updated 6 July 2018

7 Oral evidence from the Foreign Secretary, HC 538, 31 October 2018, Q354, Q411

8 Oral evidence: FCO Budget and Capacity and Annual Report 2016–17, HC 573, 15 November 2017, Q16 [Sir Simon McDonald]

9 Q186 [Minister Field]

10 Qq47–52 [Reuben Abraham]; EPG Strategic Communications Ltd (GBI0023), para 3.7

11 Qq93–94 [Lord Bilimoria]

12 Oral evidence from the Foreign Secretary, HC 538, 31 October 2018, Q411

13 In Search of a Role: Rethinking British Foreign Policy, Sir Simon Fraser, Chatham House, 7 November 2017, page 8

14 Oral evidence: UK foreign policy in changed world conditions, House of Lords, Select Committee on International Relations, 9 May 2018, Q119 [Professor Kate Sullivan de Estrada]

15 Q17 [Sir James Bevan]

16 Q17 [Sir James Bevan]; Q149 [Ranjan Mathai]; Chatham House (GBI0017), para 1–2; Professor Kate Sullivan de Estrada (GBI0033)

Published: 24 June 2019