Britain continuing India trade talks despite allegations of murder in Canada

Downing Street recognised the claims as ‘serious’ but was ‘not looking to conflate’ them with trade talks with Delhi.

Sam Blewett
Tuesday 19 September 2023 15:01 BST
India’s prime minister Narendra Modi has in the past raised concerns with Mr Sunak about Sikh separatists in the UK (PA)
India’s prime minister Narendra Modi has in the past raised concerns with Mr Sunak about Sikh separatists in the UK (PA) (PA Wire)

Britain is forging ahead with trade talks with India despite acknowledging “serious allegations” that the Indian government is linked to the killing of a Sikh activist in Canada.

Downing Street said on Tuesday it is in “close touch” with Canada after its prime minister, Justin Trudeau, said New Delhi may have been behind the killing of Hardeep Singh Nijjar.

The advocate of Sikh independence from India was gunned down outside a cultural centre in British Columbia in June.

India has denied being behind the murder, expelling a senior Canadian diplomat on Tuesday in a tit-for-tat move and accusing Canada of interfering in its internal affairs.

In the UK, Rishi Sunak was keen not to let the severe row between two allies get in the way of the post-Brexit trade deal he is trying to secure with India.

The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: “We’re in close touch with our Canadian partners about these serious allegations.

“It’s right that the Canadian authorities are looking into them. But I’m not going to get ahead of that work that needs to take place now.”

He said “that work on trade negotiations will continue as before”, arguing it is “important not to get ahead of the work that Canadian partners are doing” investigating the allegations.

The official said Britain raises concerns directly during trade talks, but added that “with regards to the current negotiations with India, these are negotiations about a trade deal and we are not looking to conflate with other issues”.

But he stressed it is “vitally important that a country’s sovereignty and international rule of law is respected”.

Mr Trudeau, who met Mr Sunak at the G20 summit in New Delhi this month, raised the claims with the Prime Minister, according to Ottawa’s foreign minister, Melanie Joly.

It is understood the Prime Minister knew in advance that Canada, a fellow member of the Five Eyes intelligence alliance, was going to level the claims at India.

Downing Street said it is not aware of any plans to follow Canada’s move in expelling a diplomat.

Canada expelled four Russian diplomats in response to the poisoning of former spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia with a nerve agent in Salisbury in 2018.

Mr Trudeau’s allegation has led to fresh scrutiny being placed on the deaths of prominent Sikh figures, with three said to have died unexpectedly in recent months.

One, Avtar Singh Khanda, a 35-year-old activist calling for an independent Sikh homeland known as Khalistan, died in Birmingham in June.

West Midlands Police said a review had concluded “there were no suspicious circumstances” and they would not be reopening the investigation.

Jas Singh, an adviser to the Sikh Federation (UK), said the Canadian allegations mean that “absolutely there should be a full investigation now” into what he called the “suspicious death” of Mr Khanda.

Asked if police should look again at the circumstances, Mr Sunak’s spokesman said the police review had been “thorough”.

India’s prime minister, Narendra Modi, has in the past raised concerns with Mr Sunak about Sikh separatists in the UK.

Mr Nijjar had been organising an unofficial referendum for Khalistan at the time of his death, and Indian authorities had accused him of involvement in an alleged attack on a Hindu priest in India.

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