NEW DELHI: Although the Diwali deadline for the India-UK free trade agreement (FTA) turned out to be a dud, the festival of lights produced enough sparkle in both countries with the dramatic election of Indian-origin Rishi Sunak as the new British Prime Minister.
At 42, he is the youngest PM of Britain, the first British Asian to hold the high office, and the third premier UK has had in two months.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi was amongst the first world leaders to congratulate Sunak. “I look forward to working together on global issues and implementing a roadmap for 2030. Special Diwali wishes to the ‘living bridge’ of UK Indians as we transform our historic ties into a modern partnership,’’ Modi said.
At Sunak’s first address after taking charge outside 10, Downing Street on Tuesday, he plunged the knife into his predecessor Liz Truss, saying he intends to fix her mistakes, adding the country was facing a profound economic crisis. A tough, new fiscal plan is expected next week. Sunak said he would act with compassion but won’t not let future generations pay for debt “we are too weak to pay ourselves”. Many of Truss’s ministers resigned in heaps or were sacked as Sunak began finalising his cabinet.
Dominic Raab will be Sunak’s deputy. He will also hold additional charge of justice secretary. Jeremy Hunt will continue as chancellor. He had begun cleaning up the mess created by Kwasi Kwarteng’s mini-budget, scrapping most of it. Hunt was in Sunak’s camp.
Sunak’s election raised hopes for the India-UK FTA. But Suella Braverman, who had nuked it by raising the immigration bogie, is back as home secretary. How it would affect the FTA is anybody’s guess.
Close to 15 of the 26 chapters that were up for discussion under the FTA talks have been sealed. Before Truss stepped down, a UK trade team was visiting India to take it forward.
“Cutting taxes on whiskey is among the UK’s talking points. If it succeeds in getting tariff reduction on whiskey from India, it would not just be good for Scotland but could also encourage other countries to reduce tariffs,’’ sources said.
Youngest premier in 210 years
Sunak is the youngest British prime minister in 210 years. He is also Britain’s first Hindu premier
He spoke for close to 6 minutes, delivering one of his longest first speeches by a new PM
Sunak’s wife Akshata earned Rs 126.61 crore dividend income from Infosys in 2022
Indian-origin MP Alok Sharma loses Cabinet seat but stays as COP26 president to negotiate on behalf of the UK at COP27 in Egypt next month