India and the UK have long-standing historical ties and notwithstanding this baggage of the past, the UK after 74 years of independence has become one of India’s most important strategic partners. Both the countries enjoy robust political, economic and commercial links. People to people ties are symbiotic and the 1.5 million Indian diaspora in the UK is a living bridge between these two maritime democracies. The relationship has evolved in various aspects and indeed, the May 4 2021 virtual summit between Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Prime Minister Narendra Modi breathed new life into the UK-India comprehensive strategic partnership. In light of these significant developments, the Ananta Centre hosted the UK High Commissioner (HC) to India H.E. Alex Ellis for a public session aptly titled ‘UK-India: Evolution to Transformation’. Held under the ‘Ambassador Series’ initiative, the session was moderated by Y K Sinha, the former Indian High Commissioner to the UK.
The UK is looking at India in the broader context of the Indo-Pacific region, the rise of China and the impact of climate change and technologies. India is one of the UK’s top three priorities and the ‘Global Britain in a Competitive Age’ Integrated Review reiterates India to be one of the ‘international actor of growing importance’. HC Ellis referred to this co-incidence of growing importance as “co-incidence of ambition’ which must be recognized by the political leadership in both the counties to transform and translate bilateral convergences into deeper habits-of- cooperation.
Though trade and investment ties are underperforming, several positives stand out including the conclusion of the Enhanced Trade Partnership and India launching the second highest number of projects in the UK. Mobility and talent flows are also significant where Indians have received 44% of high-skilled work visas in the UK; higher than any other country. As negotiations for a bilateral Free Trade Agreement will commence by late 2021, HC Ellis signaled the political commitment on both sides to deepen trade and economic exchanges through win- win outcomes and partnerships are essential. Mr. Y K Sinha also echoed the Oxford- AstraZeneca and Covishield vaccine development as a step towards enriching UK-India economic collaboration.
Equally optimistic are the efforts to strengthen defense and security cooperation through joint exercises and regular high-level dialogues on counter-terrorism and cyber security. Maritime security is a burgeoning area of UK-India cooperation manifested through sharing of maritime awareness in the Western Indian Ocean region and the UK posting a liaison officer in the Indian Navy’s Information Fusion Centre for Indian Ocean Region (IFC-IOR). As both India and the UK network with other like-minded countries to realize a free, open and inclusive Indo-Pacific region, HC Ellis boasted of the UK’s strong ties with the US, Japan and Australia too.
In the run up to the COP 26 conference in Glasgow, HC Ellis also highlighted India’s integral role in solving the climate change challenge and highlighted the significance of the UK-India Track II Dialogue on Climate Change and Energy convened by the Ananta Centre which aims to provide actionable policy recommendations for policy makers and implementers as they seek to strengthen UK-India collaboration on climate finance, biodiversity, green hydrogen and clean transport to name a few. Both countries are working together on disaster resilient infrastructure for small island states most vulnerable to climate change through the Commonwealth group. Cooperation on global governance issues in multilateral forums like the United Nations and the G-7 is another significant aspect of UK-India strategic cooperation.
India stands as an important partner for UK in its post-BREXIT outreach and wants to strengthen partnerships with open societies in a more competitive world, while India too aims to work with like-minded countries who can provide it with technologies, resources and best practices to realize its development objectives and contribute to a more inclusive international order. Along with these, the multiple avenues of collaboration and cooperation outlined in the 2030 Roadmap, emphasis that Indian and British policy makers must first reckon with the ‘co- incidence of ambition’ before they get down to implementing their vision. Thus, there is a stronger need for both counties to reinvigorate trust and confidence to drive the future course of the relationship.
This digital session was a part of a series on “Ambassador Series”
Please watch the full session on YouTube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EFQG9v3WP1w