Britain must be willing to give ground to boost India ties: former British high commissioner

According to the retired diplomat, it is a lack of trust on both sides that is holding the relationship back.

Published: 03rd July 2018 09:08 PM  |   Last Updated: 03rd July 2018 09:08 PM   |  A+A-

British High Commissioner to India Richard Stagg (C). (File Photo)


LONDON: The UK government needs to be willing to give ground over issues of mobility and visas for a mature and successful relationship with India, former British high commissioner to India Richard Stagg has said.

Stagg, who was in charge at the British High Commission in Delhi between 2007 and 2011 and is now Chairman of Rothschild India, expressed his concerns over the UK government's lack of a clear strategy on achieving closer ties with India during a meeting of the Indo-British All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) in the House of Commons complex yesterday.

“We need to set clear goals and work towards them… We need to be calm, patient, realistic and try and identify the genuine shared interests to achieve a more mature and successful relationship. In some areas, we have to give ground, not just take it,” he said, pointing to defence and security as key areas of cooperation that both countries should be doing more in.

According to the retired diplomat, it is a lack of trust on both sides that is holding the relationship back.

On the Indian side, the visa issue “exacerbates matters”, most recently the decision to facilitate student visa rules for other countries including China but not for India.

The "Bollygarchs", a reference to Indian millionaires like Vijay Mallya and Nirav Modi allegedly seeking refuge from justice in the UK, also add to the distrust as the Indian government believes the UK is not doing as much as it could or should," he said.

“On the UK side, the continuing saga of retrospective taxation against UK companies like Vodafone and Cairn results in gripes on both sides, which neither side is good at resolving,” Stagg said.

As someone involved with trade negotiations between India and the European Union (EU) over the years, Stagg also struck a note of caution that it was the UK which had the most difficulty on issues such as financial services, legal services, taxation and visas that prevented an India-EU free trade agreement (FTA) being struck.

Therefore, a post-Brexit FTA between India and the UK is unlikely to prove any easier.

The event, to mark the launch of ‘The Billionaire Raj: A Journey Through India's New Gilded Age' by former ‘Financial Times' Mumbai Bureau Chief James Crabtree, was chaired by Labour MP Seema Malhotra, the vice-chair of the Indo-British APPG.

She said that while India is often referred to as one of the key countries within the post-Brexit global context, in recent months relations had hit a “rough patch” largely due to visa issues.

“The UK government does not have a coherent or a consistent position… There is knowledge gap (in the UK) about what modern India is about. In many ways, the UK is living in a past that is gone, geopolitics is completely different. The UK is sleepwalking into irrelevance if it doesn't recognise that soon,” said Champa Patel, Head of the Asia-Pacific Programme at Chatham House.

Crabtree added: “There is much more that we can do on the visa issue… but the idea of Global Britain and Brexit seem to be in dynamic tension.”

The debate came as the UK's cross-party Home Affairs Select Committee (HASC) released a damning report today over the UK Home Office's “hostile environment” towards visas and immigration.

In its report on the 'Windrush' scandal involving Caribbean migrants being wrongly deported, HASC called on the government to consider radical reform of the Home Office to ensure a fairer approach and scrap its target of reducing net migration to under 100,000 a year.

“Time and again we heard evidence about the culture of disbelief that has developed in the Home Office in recent years, about people feeling they were being set up to fail, and a complete lack of proper checks or safeguards to prevent injustice,” said HASC chair and Labour MP Yvette Cooper.

A Home Office spokesperson said, “A lessons-learnt review, which will have independent oversight, will help ensure that we have a clear picture of what went wrong and how we should take this forward.” 

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