Rishi Sunak optimistic a free trade deal with India is in sight

Speaking after a meeting at the G20 summit with Indian prime minister Narendra Modi, Mr Sunak suggested the finish line for negotiations are in sight

Archie Mitchell
Saturday 09 September 2023 19:24 BST
Rishi Sunak ‘pleased’ after arrest of escaped terror suspect Daniel Khalife

Rishi Sunak is optimistic he will strike a trade deal between Britain and India, promising the two countries can “work through” the final negotiation hurdles.

Speaking after a meeting at the G20 summit with Indian prime minister Narendra Modi, Mr Sunak suggested the finish line for negotiations is in sight.

The UK PM said after a “warm and productive” talk with Mr Modi there is “a desire on both of our parts to see a successful trade deal concluded”.

“The opportunities are there for both countries, but there is a lot of hard work that is still to go and we need to work through that, as we will do,” Mr Sunak said.

Downing Street said the pair agreed ministers and negotiating teams would work “at pace” towards a free trade deal

On a busy day for the PM in New Delhi, he:

  • Struck an optimistic tone about free trade negotiations with India
  • Left the door open to a benefit cut to fund a tax reduction
  • Welcomed the capture of escaped terror suspect Daniel Khalife
  • Raised the case of detained Briton Jagtar Singh Johal with the Indian premier

Mr Sunak, who has been dubbed the “son-in-law of India” due to his wife Akshata Murty being an Indian citizen, as well as his own Indian heritage, is seeking to finalise a deal Boris Johnson said would be done by October last year.

A sticking point in the negotiations has been India’s reported desire for any deal to bring a relaxation in immigration controls for Indians, which has sparked concerns among Mr Sunak’s top team.

The PM’s spokesperson confirmed last week officials had “no plans” to change immigration rules to get the deal over the line.

Another issue is differences over the level of access British car manufacturers should be given to India’s market of 1.4 billion people.

A crucial difference between London and New Delhi has also emerged in their stance on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, where Mr Sunak has vehemently condemned Vladimir Putin’s 19-month assault on Kyiv, while India has kept ties open with the Kremlin since Moscow’s forces crossed the Ukrainian border in February 2022.

Ahead of the meeting, Mr Sunak told reporters a deal with India is “not a given” and he would not set “arbitrary deadlines” for finalising an agreement.

But with reports suggesting he could return to India in the autumn, the Indian government’s aim of ratifying fresh trade terms by the end of the year could be met.

The deal would be a major post-Brexit prize for Britain, giving UK companies more favourable access to a huge market.

A Downing Street spokesperson said Mr Sunak and Mr Modi “reflected on the close and growing ties between the UK and India, exemplified in the ‘living bridge’ between our people”.

“They agreed it was important to build on the past and focus on the future, cementing a modern partnership in cutting-edge defence technology, trade and innovation,” she added.

Mr Sunak “reiterated the UK’s ambition to deliver a landmark trade deal which benefits businesses and workers in both countries,” she said.

Also at the G20 summit, Mr Sunak refused to rule out cutting benefit payments to fund a tax bung before the next election.

Amid reports the government could hand benefit claimants a below-inflation increase, he declined to “speculate” about what will be in chancellor Jeremy Hunt’s budget in November.

Mr Sunak said he is “very pleased” Khalife has been arrested as he praised efforts by the police and the public in finding him.

And he said he raised the case of detained Briton Jagtar Singh Johal during his meeting with Mr Modi.

Speaking to broadcasters, the PM said: “Yes, I was able to [raise the case of Mr Johal], alongside a range of other consular issues that prime minister Modi and I discussed in the time that we had.

“And also the Foreign Office are continuing to provide support to Mr Johal’s family and will continue to do so.”

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