We want the brightest and best Indian students to attend our great universities, Boris Johnson said. The UK and India are important investors in one another’s economies, he said.
He said, Britain and India cherish the same values and work together to make the world a better place.
One of the more compelling contemporary politicians in Britain, foreign secretaryBoris Johnson is increasingly seen as the Tories’ best bet against a resurgent Labour’s Jeremy Corbyn should there be another mid-term general elections. Educated at Eton and Oxford, Boris’s late father-in-law, Sir Charles Wheeler, was the BBC’s South Asia correspondent in Delhi in the late 1950s, who reported on the 1959 Tibetan Uprising. His mother-in-law Dip Singh is a Sikh from West Punjab who migrated to India after Partition and his wife Marina QC wears her Indian identity on her kurta sleeve. In this exclusive interview to TOI, Johnson tells Naomi Cantonmore Indians are visiting the UK than ever before.
Q: India clearly wants concessions on visas as part of any future bilateral trade deal with Britain. What are you doing to progress this? Incidentally, the number of Indian students in the UK has dropped from 40,000 in 2010 to 19,000 in 2016.
A: I must correct you and point out that the number of Indian students in the UK continues to rise. Our most recent figures show a 10% increase in Indian students gaining visas – and 91% of these applications are successful. We want the brightest and best Indian students to attend our great universities; there is no limit to the number of genuine Indian students who can study in Britain. More and more Indian students and young professionals are choosing to go to the UK to further their ambitions, showing that Britain is open for business.
We provide an excellent visa service in India and I think it’s important to correct some misunderstandings. First, more Indians are visiting the UK than ever before. We know this because we are granting more visas than ever before. This year until June, we gave nearly 500,000 visas to Indians – an eight per cent rise on the previous year. In fact, Britain issues more visas to Indians than any other country in the world, apart from China.
Second, nearly every Indian who applies for a visa gets one: 90% of applications are granted. In addition, we process 99% of applications inside our standard of 15 working days. We have 17 Visa Application Centres in India – more than anywhere else in the world.
Third, Indians get more UK work visas than all other nationalities combined. Last year, almost 60,000 work visas were granted to Indian nationals, accounting for nearly two-thirds of all the UK work visas issued globally. The vast majority were Tier 2 Intra-Company Transfers.
Q: FDI from the UK into India dropped from US$7.8 billion in 2011-2012 to US$1.4 billion in 2014-2015 and the UK’s share in India’s global trade went down from 2.07% in 2013-2014 to 1.89% in 2014-2015. What do you think these figures portend?
A: The UK and India are important investors in one another’s economies. Instead of taking a snapshot of one year, the sustained pattern is what counts. Over the last 10 years, Britain has been the biggest investor in India in the G20. During this period, Britain invested $24.7 billion in India – almost three times more than, for example, the $8.6 billion from Germany.
And this brings real benefits. Today British companies employ about one in 20 of all workers in India’s formal private sector. In the other direction, Indian investment created or safeguarded 11,664 jobs in the UK last year.
So far, Indian companies have raised over $1.5 billion of Masala bonds. Some 80% of these were listed in London, reflecting investor confidence in the Indian economy and the status of London as the world’s premier financial centre.
Last November, our two PMs brought together hundreds of British and Indian companies at the TECH Summit in Delhi. And later this year, Indian business delegations in advanced manufacturing, electric automotive, life sciences and creative industries, will travel to the UK.
This illustrates as brightly as the White Cliffs of Dover or the Taj Mahal on a sunny day that India and the UK are taking forward our ambitions for the good of our respective peoples in the 21st century
Q: What kind of relationship do you envisage the UK having with India post-Brexit?
A: Britain and India are the world’s oldest and largest democracies. We cherish the same values and we work together to make the world a better place. One of the reasons why I argued in favour of leaving the EU was that I wanted a Global Britain to strengthen our friendships with countries beyond Europe, particularly India.
Our countries benefit from a unique “living bridge” of people, ideas, institutions and technology. The UK is blessed with over 1.5 million people of Indian descent, many of them leaders in business, politics, academia, medicine and the arts. Twelve MPs of Indian origin serve in the House of Commons.
I very much hope that Prime Minister Modi will accept our invitation to attend the Commonwealth Summit in London next April. Over half of the Commonwealth’s population is Indian and the Summit’s official theme, ‘Towards a Common Future’, is particularly relevant to India.
Q: How much is a post-Brexit free trade deal with India worth? If a bilateral trade deal was agreed, what value of exports could Britain export to India?
A: We want the strongest possible economic and commercial relationship with India. Our bilateral trade in goods and services exceeded £16bn in 2016.
This is good, but we can do better. That’s why we’re taking a range of steps to strengthen Britain’s trading ties with India. The Joint Economic and Trade Committee (JETCO) – jointly chaired by the UK’s Secretary of State for International Trade and the Indian Commerce Minister – has commissioned an analysis of our trading relationship. JETCO has also created a new joint working group on trade to prepare for a more ambitious trading relationship once we leave the EU.
Q: What’s your assessment of the Rohingya refugee problem. Do you think Aung Suu Kyi is rightly being criticised for her indifference to their plight?
A: The situation in Burma is unacceptable. The latest assessment suggests that over 500,000 Rohingya have fled Rakhine state in little more than a month. An outflow on this scale tells its own story. I have no doubt that Burma’s military bear primary responsibility for this tragedy.
During the UN General Assembly in New York in September, I brought together the representatives of Burma and Bangladesh, along with other key countries including Indonesia, Turkey, America and China. We delivered a united message to the Burmese military on what needs to be done.
In the first instance the killing should stop and the UN must be allowed to deliver aid wherever needed. Once peace is restored, Burma’s government should ensure that every Rohingya refugee is able to go home. Then there has to be accountability for what has happened in Rakhine.
Finally, the government needs to keep its promise to implement the report of the Advisory Commission on Rakhine, chaired by Kofi Annan, the former UN secretary general.
Q: How do you view India’s repeated assertions that Pakistan is the fountainhead of international terror, especially since Osama bin Laden was taken out by US special forces from that country?
A: Britain and India stand shoulder-to-shoulder in the fight against terrorism. We were greatly comforted by the support we received from India after the recent attacks in London and Manchester. The British Government works closely with both India and Pakistan on fighting terrorism. I have made clear to Pakistan’s Government the importance of taking effective action against all terrorist groups operating in Pakistan.
Q: What’s your position on the Kashmir issue?
A: Britain’s position is that it is for India and Pakistan to find a lasting solution to the situation in Kashmir, taking into account the wishes of the Kashmiri people. It is not for us to prescribe a solution or act as a mediator.
Q: You were among the earliest proponents of engaging Iran — years before the US-Iran nuclear deal. Therefore, what do you think of Trump’s description of the Iran deal as an “embarrassment to the United States”? What would be the implications if the USA pulled out of the deal?
A: I believe that the nuclear agreement, the JCPOA, represents the best way of containing Iran’s nuclear ambitions. I regard it as a historic achievement which has made the world a safer place. Britain wants to preserve the agreement and we believe that all parties should continue to observe its terms.
Q: What do you think of GST and demonetisation? How is GST viewed by British companies operating in India and how is May’s relationship with Modi?
A: Every country has its own way of pursuing economic reform. Demonetization was a bold move by a leader committed to real change. My view is that anything that helps businesses to grow and create jobs in India has to be a good thing.
The GST is a very ambitious reform and we congratulate the Indian Governmenton its vision. We are excited about the GST’s potential to reduce red tape and increase growth. Our two PMs signed an agreement last year to cooperate on making it easier to do business — and tax administration is an important pillar of this.
The UK has a strong economic relationship with India. Britain is offering our support in many relevant areas, including urban regeneration, renewable energy, and the technology and investment capital required.
Q: India and the UK have an Extradition Treaty, signed in 1992, but so far only one successful extradition has taken place from the UK to India. So, what prospect is there of Vijay Mallya being extradited?
A: Britain’s executive and judiciary are separate, just as they are in India. Extradition is largely a judicial process and the Government’s role is limited and set out in law. The UK Government and the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), who represent the Indian Government in court proceedings, are committed to working alongside India to combat serious crime.
Earlier this year, Britain initiated expert level discussions with the Indian government on how to improve progress on extradition requests in both directions. I cannot comment on an individual case before the UK courts. Extradition requests are handled via correct legal procedures.