Resignation to boost UK-India FTA talks?

The resignation of Home Secretary Suella Braverman could boost the prospects of the UK and India sealing a trade deal, as well as making it easier for the government in London to introduce an expanded visa system.

Official portrait of Suella Braverman

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Ms Braverman resigned on Wednesday afternoon, saying she had made a “technical infringement” of the rules by sending an official document from a personal email.
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Immigration prompted resignation

However, it was widely reported that the real reason was because she and then-Prime Minister Liz Truss had fallen out over the latter's intention to embark on a major review of the immigration system to enable Britain to attract more of the overseas skills the economy badly needs.Ms Braverman had also angered the Delhi government by telling the Spectator magazine last week that she had reservations about a trade deal with India because it could open the door to more Indian students and businesspeople coming to the UK.“I have concerns about having an open borders migration policy with India because I don’t think that’s what people voted for with Brexit,” said Ms Braverman, whose parents were of Indian origin.Asked whether she would support a deal if it only involved greater flexibility for students and entrepreneurs, she said: “I do have some reservations. Look at migration in this country – the largest group of people who overstay are Indian migrants."Earlier this week, Ms Braverman insisted she remained "eager" for an FTA with India to be sealed.

Sealing a fair deal

However, the fact she has now been replaced by Grant Shapps - who is regarded as having a more liberal approach to immigration issues - does not mean a trade deal can be done by the Diwali deadline of next Monday, set earlier this year by then-Prime Minister Boris Johnson during a visit to India. Indeed, press reports from India say an agreement by mid-2023 is now more likely.Britain's Trade Policy Minister Greg Hands said this week that it was not the Diwali deadline that was important, but the need to get a deal that would suit both sides.“Talks are progressing well. We have completed five rounds of formal negotiations and we are seeing a way forward for a deal that works for both sides,” he said.“As my boss, the Trade Secretary [Kemi Badenoch], likes to say, it's the deal that's more important than the date when it comes to delivering for businesses and consumers in both our countries."Given the importance of the free trade agreement to both our nations, our focus must be on quality, not speed. And by concentrating on the deal and not the date, we'll build an agreement that truly serves all of our citizens."Mr Hands added that Mr Badenoch and Indian Commerce Minister Piyush Goyal were continuing to have regular discussions to build an “even warmer and more productive relationship”.

Stumbling blocks remain

However, major obstacles to a deal persist, including access for services and Indian demands for simplified visas. Indian negotiators are also reported to have demanded the imposition of onerous 'rules of origin' that would mean significant British exports – such as cars and whisky – would not easily benefit from reduced import tariffs.For its part, the UK wants to see easier access for financial services and sizeable reductions in import tariffs, while India wants to increase exports of leather, textiles, jewellery and food products to Britain.A Commerce Ministry official in New Delhi told the New Indian Express on Thursday: “The pace of negotiation between both countries got impacted due to political instability in the UK. At this point, it is difficult to conclude the trade deal. We can’t put any timeline to it as we couldn’t meet the Diwali deadline. Entering into FTA can be beneficial if it is fair and balanced.” 

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