‘India, UK at pivotal moment of enhanced cooperation’

India, UK at pivotal moment of enhanced cooperation, says Alexander Ellis

UK's immigration policy is now much better for India because we do not discriminate against potential migrants, he says

British High Commissioner to India Alexander W Ellis

In the wake of Brexit, the United Kingdom has come to view India as one its most important global partners as Britain seeks out new economic partnerships outside the European Union and builds alliances for a changing world. British High Commissioner to India Alexander W Ellis, who took his post in February, tells DH’s Akhil Kadidal that Britain’s immigration policy now only looks at skills and education, and that benefits Indians hugely.

How does the United Kingdom view India, following Brexit?

Brexit will help India and the UK insofar as business and trade is concerned. India is one of those countries that the UK regards as an opportunity. Inherently, Brexit has created two clear effects and one psychological effect. The clear effects are that you have a different migration policy, plus increased trade.

How will this impact India?

Our immigration policy is now much better for India because we do not discriminate against potential migrants on the basis of which country they come from. Our only criteria now are skills and education, and that's been of huge benefit to India.

What aspects of immigration were discussed between Prime Ministers Boris Johnson and Narendra Modi during the virtual discussions held earlier this year?

One of the agendas was a new migration and mobility partnership that opens up another route for temporary migration to the UK. As far as the young professionals scheme goes, India is the first visa-requirement country in the world to benefit from that scheme. We have already had the scheme open to people from Australia and New Zealand but we had not opened it to any visa country before. The counterbalance to that is that it will be tougher on people who overstay or enter the country illegally.

By 2031, what sort of trade and commerce relationship would you likely see between India and the UK?

There are four or five areas we think we're really going to work together on. A strategic partnership means total relationships on defence and security, healthcare, plus sustainability and climate. It also means more people flow on the “living bridge,” [immigration], plus trade and investment. We have big investments coming into India from the UK on electric vehicles, for example. We are targeting doubling our trade investment by 2030. All this is a consequence of the kind of strategic realignment, which I think has led to the creation of the UK being India's first comprehensive strategic partner.

Does the UK’s interest in India partly have to do with countering China?

I'll connect this to my first answer when I said there is a third element about Brexit— in that it is pushing the UK to look outwards to the world. As part of the Modi-Johnson meeting, you had an agreement to launch a free trade agreement, which we're starting out or going up again on trade policy after 50 years. And then, I think every country in the world is grappling with the question of how do you work with China.

Do you consider an assertive Communist China a threat?

With China, it's not a simple good or bad. At times, you're competing with China. At times, you are contesting with China, and sometimes cooperating. It is a much more complex environment than that of the Cold War, which I grew up in. And so, every country should work out how we balance between these different objectives, and that's partly determined by China's behaviour. For example, in Hong Kong. It's not that we want to change our policies toward China, but China is behaving in ways that make countries do: “Well, we think maybe we should have to shift our balance between these different competing objectives.” Also, what we do and who we do it with matters.

Britain’s new Carrier Strike Group is currently exercising with the Indian Navy. Is this a projection of force?

If you look at the roadmap which the two Prime Ministers signed, maritime cooperation is a big part of that, particularly in the western Indian Ocean. The sea is becoming more relevant as a contested space. The deployment of the Carrier Strike Group is the biggest we've had since the Cold War. It is a projection of hard power, but it is a global projection. It is also a statement that we are seeking to work with India on defence and security. At the same time, it is a signal about the reinvestment of the UK in defence.

Did any deals materialise out of Aero India?

The days when you just sell people military equipment are coming to an end. Most countries are now looking to indigenise. But that's not a thing which is done in isolation. So, discussions are ongoing about how we can cooperate more closely, government to government, but also company to company.

Is the UK collaborating with the Centre on Covid and healthcare solutions?

We are working with the Centre on increasing genomic sequencing capabilities. We have a shared interest in knowing what's going on in India because health in India, in a pandemic, is important for other parts of the world.

Britain supplied large quantities of ventilators and other gear to India during the second wave…

Frankly, India had supported us last year, in terms of equipment such as PPE kits and the like. We wanted to repay that gesture. Despite the awfulness of Covid-19, an intense time of collaboration has resulted. What we'd like to do from that is create a longer-term health relationship.

Longer-term cooperation?

Yes, on issues like antimicrobial resistance and resistance to antibiotics. What we would like to have is enhanced research on treating non-communicable diseases like diabetes. We were also talking to the Indian government this week about giving more value to the nursing profession. The UK has great expertise in nursing, and so actually a lot of Indian nurses work in the UK. We discussed the possibility of bringing back some of that expertise back to India.

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