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The India-UK Relationship

  • 20 Apr 2022
  • 12 min read

This editorial is based on “A New Shine To Old Ties” which was published in Indian Express on 19/04/2022. It talks about the recent developments in India’s bilateral relations with the UK and major irritants in their ties.

For Prelims: India’s UK Relations, Indo-UK Comprehensive Strategic Partnership in 2021, 2030 Roadmap for India-UK Relations, India’s Indo-Pacific Oceans Initiative, India–UK FTA, UK’s Indo-Pacific Tilt, Brexit

For Mains: India’s Bilateral Relations with UK, India-UK FTA and its significance, Challenges in Indo-UK Ties, Strengthening India-UK Ties.

The current status of India’s relations with the United Kingdom stands in contrast to the entrenched pessimism in the two about their prospects.

The bitter legacies of colonialism had made it impossible for the two sides to pursue a sensible relationship in the past. But over the last couple of years, India and the UK have begun a promising and pragmatic engagement devoid of sentiment and resentment.

The two bureaucracies have been working on a roadmap to transform bilateral relations by 2030 under the supervision of the External Affairs Minister of India and his British counterpart.

What are the Recent Developments on India’s Relations with the UK?

  • Despite the challenge posed by the Ukraine crisis, the India-UK relationship has been on an upward trajectory, exemplified by the conclusion of a Comprehensive Strategic Partnership in 2021.
  • The UK Foreign Secretary, in her recent visit, emphasised countering Russian aggression and reducing global strategic dependence on the country by underlining the importance of democracies working cohesively to deter aggressors.
  • The Secretary furthered the talks on defence-related trade and deepening cyber security and defence cooperation between the two countries.
    • A new joint cyber security programme is set to be announced to protect online infrastructure in India and the UK
    • India and the UK also plan to hold the first Strategic Tech Dialogue, a ministerial-level summit on emerging technologies.
  • Additionally, the UK and India have agreed to strengthen their cooperation in the maritime domain as the UK will join India’s Indo-Pacific Oceans Initiative and become a major partner on maritime security issues in Southeast Asia.
  • In January 2022, India and the UK managed to conclude the first round of talks for an India–UK Free Trade Agreement.
    • The negotiations reflected shared ambitions to secure a comprehensive deal between the fifth (UK) and sixth (India) largest economies in the world as technical experts from both sides covered over 32 sessions encompassing 26 policy areas.

What is the Role of Other Countries in Enhanced India-UK Relations?

  • US: The US is central to transforming the bilateral ties between India and UK. Its recognition of India as an emerging global power and an important partner in the Indo-Pacific diverted the UK’s focus towards India.
    • It was the US that first recognised India’s rapidly-growing relative weight in the international system. By the end of the 20th century, the US unveiled a policy of assisting India’s rise with a view that a stronger India will serve US interests in Asia and the world.
  • China: For the US, the strategic commitment to assist India’s rise was rooted in the recognition of the dangers of a China-dominated Asia.
    • In the last two decades, the UK and China shared excellent bilateral ties; the former declared a “golden decade” in relations with China in 2015.
    • However, the Chinese expansionist policies and US’ confrontation with the Chinese power lead to the UK unveiling its own “Indo-Pacific tilt” with India, again, as an important partner.

Why is Indo-UK Partnership Important?

  • For UK: India is a key strategic partner for the UK in the Indo-Pacific both in terms of market share and defence, as was underscored by the signing of the Defence and International Security Partnership between India and the UK in 2015.
    • For Britain, a successful conclusion of an FTA with India would provide a boost to its ‘Global Britain’ ambitions as the UK has sought to expand its markets beyond Europe since Brexit.
    • Britain has been trying to seize opportunities in the growing economies of the Indo-Pacific to cement its place on the global stage as a serious global actor.
      • The British would be better able to achieve this goal with good bilateral relations with India.
  • For India: The UK is a regional power in the Indo-Pacific as it possesses naval facilities in Oman, Singapore, Bahrain, Kenya, and British Indian Ocean Territory.
    • The UK has also confirmed £70 million of British International Investment funding to support the usage of renewable energy in India, which will help in building renewable energy infrastructure and developing solar power in the region.
    • India has sought easy market access for Indian fisheries, pharma, and agricultural products besides duty concession for labour-intensive exports.

What have been the Major Irritants in the India-UK Relations?

  • Colonial Prism: India’s post-colonial engagement with Britain has been riddled with multiple contradictions. India’s lingering post-colonial resentments and the UK’s unacceptable claim for a special role in the Subcontinent generated unending friction.
    • The consequences of Partition and the Cold War made it harder for the two countries to construct a sustainable partnership.
    • However, the recent regional and international upheavals provide a new basis for mutually beneficial engagement.
  • Pakistan Angle: Pakistan also has been one of the major obstacles in the bilateral relations of India with Britain. Britain’s advocacy of Pakistan has always been a matter of concern for India .
    • Unlike the US and France, which are committed to an “India first” strategy in South Asia, the UK remains torn between its new enthusiasm for India and the inertia of its historic tilt towards Pakistan.
  • Britain’s Domestic Politics: The domestic dynamics of Britain have also tended to sour ties with India.
    • It was a reigning assumption in Delhi that the Labour Party was empathetic to India while the Conservative Party was not. Although this view turned out to be quite the opposite, antipathy towards India existed in one way or the other.
      • The Labour Party had become rather hostile on India’s internal matters, including on Kashmir.

How can India-UK Ties be Strengthened?

  • A post-Brexit Britain needs to make the best of its historic ties; having walked out of Europe, the country needs all the partners it can find and a rising India is naturally among the top political and economic priorities.
    • Both India and the UK are serious in overcoming legacy issues and engaging in robust dialogues to promote cooperation on strategic and defence issues both in the Indo-Pacific as well as at the global level.
    • India meanwhile has become supremely self-assured in dealing with the UK; with the Indian economy set to become larger than Britain’s in the next couple of years, it is and shall be no longer defensive about engaging Britain.
  • Britain remains the fifth-largest economy, a permanent member of the UN Security Council, a global financial hub, a centre of technological innovation, and a leading cyber power. It has a significant international military presence and wide-ranging political influence.
    • India should try harder to leverage these British strengths for India’s strategic benefit.
    • The forthcoming visit of the British Prime Minister to India signifies the importance of India’s role in the dynamically changing global order as the latter prepares itself to host multiple foreign leaders in the upcoming months and the G20 presidency in 2023.
    • In the upcoming visit, furthering the negotiations on the India-UK FTA should be one of the key focus areas.
    • The newer areas of cooperation — namely, fintech, market regulation, sustainable and green finance, and cyber security could emerge as the new frontiers of this engagement.

Drishti Mains Question

“New geopolitical realities demand a new strategic vision from the UK and India. It is time to seize the moment and to lay the foundations of a partnership that can respond adequately to the challenges of the 21st century”. Comment.

UPSC Civil Services Examination, Previous Year Questions (PYQs)

Q. Consider the following countries: (2014)

  1. Denmark
  2. Japan
  3. Russian Federation
  4. United Kingdom
  5. United States of America

Which of the above are the members of the ‘Arctic Council’?

(a) 1, 2 and 3
(b) 2, 3 and 4
(c) 1, 4 and 5
(d) 1, 3 and 5

Ans: (d)

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