The Government has missed a deadline set by Boris Johnson to sign a free trade deal with India, prompting questions over the future of the negotiations under incoming prime minister Rishi Sunak.
Earlier this month, Downing Street insisted there was no rush for Britain to finalise an agreement amid reports that talks with the government of Narendra Modi were close to collapse.
At the time, the Department for International Trade (DIT) said negotiations were continuing despite claims that anger in New Delhi over remarks by then home secretary Suella Braverman criticising Indian migrants had put hopes of an agreement in jeopardy.
When Boris Johnson visited India in April, the two countries set a deadline of Diwali on Monday to conclude a deal, with reports that Mr Modi could travel to the UK to mark the occasion. But no announcement has been made, despite outgoing Prime Minister Liz Truss committing to the same deadline.
The DIT had sought to play down suggestions of a breakdown in negotiations, with a spokesman saying the Government would only sign when the terms were right.
As the latest Conservative leadership handover takes place, attention will turn to how Mr Sunak may approach the subject, particularly given his links to the country.
The 42-year-old is the first British Asian and Hindu to become prime minister in the UK. His wife is the daughter of India’s sixth richest man, and his parents are of Punjabi descent.
During the last leadership election where Mr Sunak lost out to Ms Truss, the former chancellor said he wanted to be “pragmatic” in his approach to immigration and make sure his policies support economic growth. Although he said little about his views on the use of work visas while the UK continues to face a labour shortage, these comments suggest a more liberal attitude than favoured by the likes of Ms Braverman.
During her brief tenure in charge of the Home Office, Ms Braverman clashed with Downing Street for expressing views which put her at odds with Government policy as Ms Truss struggled to enforce party discipline.
Ms Braverman said she had “reservations” about relaxing immigration controls as part of any trade deal with India, telling The Spectator she had “concerns about having an open borders migration policy with India because I don’t think that’s what people voted for with Brexit”.
“Look at migration in this country – the largest group of people who overstay are Indian migrants,” she told the magazine.
“We even reached an agreement with the Indian government last year to encourage and facilitate better co-operation in this regard. It has not necessarily worked very well.”
Her comments were reported to have provoked a furious reaction from ministers and officials in New Delhi.
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