BORIS JOHNSON, the former foreign secretary seen as the frontrunner in the race to replace Theresa May as British prime minister, on Monday (8) pledged a “new and improved” trading relationship with India if he is elected.
Days after his rival Jeremy Hunt reached out to the Indian diaspora membership of the Conservative Party for votes in the ongoing Tory leadership contest, Johnson issued his own letter to highlight his “personal relationship with prime minister Narendra Modi” and promised to deliver a “truly special UK-India relationship”.
“When I was with prime minister Modi I stressed that the UK and India are two modern democracies who should work closely together to promote trade and prosperity, improve global security and tackle the challenges our countries face,” Johnson writes in an open letter addressed to the Indian diaspora Tory membership base.
“If I am elected Conservative Party leader and prime minister, I will work closely with our friends in the Indian government, business and society to deliver a truly special UK-India relationship,” he said.
In keeping with his firm pro-Brexit stance and determination to leave the European Union (EU) by the October 31 deadline, the 55-year-old senior Tory MP branded it a “travesty” that the 28-member economic bloc had failed to treat free trade agreement talks with India as a priority for over a decade.
He notes: “One of the most important reasons why we need to leave the European Union on 31st October 2019 is so that we can take back control over our trade policy. India is an economic powerhouse and set to become the third largest economy by the middle of the century, with annual economic growth far outpacing the EU.
“The sooner we leave the EU and take back control of our trade policy, the sooner we can strike a new trade deal with India that will deliver new jobs, growth and prosperity for both our countries. Securing this new and improved trading relationship with our friends in India will be a priority for me.”
The former Mayor of London, who has in the past described himself as a “son-in-law of India” by virtue of his now-estranged wife Marina Wheeler’s Indian mother, stressed that the UK’s relationship with India must run deeper than just trade.
“We share so many values with India – the rule of law, democracy, and dynamic entrepreneurial spirit – and I believe that is why India should be one of our most important partners on the global stage,” he added.
He also plugged his proposals for a so-called “Australian-style points-based system” of immigration, which would ensure “friends, family members and business contacts in India do not face undue discrimination or barriers when seeking to work, travel or study in the UK”.
Johnson’s latest intervention was welcomed as a “fantastic commitment” by Priti Patel, one of the senior-most Indian-origin Tory MPs who is part of the “Back Boris” leadership campaign.
“Boris Johnson is the only candidate with a strong record of support, appreciation and understanding of UK-India relations and the Indian diaspora. Great days ahead for UK-India relations,” she said in a Twitter statement.
Johnson is going head to head with the UK foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt, who had issued a similar letter of commitment to UK-India relations and an FTA with India if he is elected as the new British prime minister.
The process of issuing postal ballots to the over 160,000 Tory party membership across the UK is set to be completed on Monday, with polls set to close by 5pm on July 22 after which the counting process will begin for the result to be declared on July 23.
The new prime minister-elect is expected to take charge at Downing Street after a formal handover process between May and the new incumbent.
May had formally resigned in early June and has been functioning as a caretaker prime minister until a new leader is elected.