Rishi Sunak refuses call for more UK visas for Indians in free trade deal talks

7 September 2023, 23:46

Rishi Sunak is set to hold talks with Narendra Modi
Rishi Sunak is set to hold talks with Narendra Modi. Picture: Getty

By Kit Heren

Rishi Sunak has "no plans" to change the UK's immigration policy in talks to secure a free trade agreement with India.

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The Prime Minister is heading to New Delhi for the G20 summit in what will be a "powerful reminder of the living bridge which exists between our two countries", Downing Street said. Mr Sunak is the first British Prime Minister of Indian descent.

Mr Sunak will hold talks with his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi over a free trade deal during the trip. India is thought to have been pushing for more visas for nurses and IT workers as part of negotiations over the agreement.

Ahead of the trip, the Prime Minister's official spokesman said: "This is a trade deal which is focused on trade and business. Immigration is a separate issue.

"The only aspect of the movement of people covered by an FTA is business mobility, which is a temporary movement of business people for specific purposes.

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Mr Sunak and Mr Modi in May
Mr Sunak and Mr Modi in May. Picture: Getty

"I can't get into more detail about what has been discussed but there are no plans to change our immigration policy to achieve an FTA."

The spokesman said the G20 was "not designed as a moment for the FTA specifically", with attention on other geopolitical issues.

The deal has been in the works for some time, with Mr Sunak's predecessor Boris Johnson previously targeting an October 2022 completion date.

But it is "unlikely" that the trade deal will be struck this week, an Indian official said.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak. Picture: Alamy

"Both countries have agreed to put the contentious issues like visa, wine tariff reduction, and protection of Indian industries, which include generic medicine manufacturers, off the table for the time being."

Mr Sunak and Mr Modi will be discussing outstanding issues including alcohol tariffs and Indian generic pharmaceutical production.

The UK also wants India to end its impartial stance on Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

The Downing Street spokesman said: "India, of course, has a vital role to play as the world’s largest democracy in calling out Russia’s assault on human rights and, indeed, democracy itself.

Rishi Sunak onboard the plane to New Delhi
Rishi Sunak onboard the plane to New Delhi. Picture: Getty

"We will use meetings with Modi or elsewhere to encourage them to use that influence to bring an end to Putin’s brutal invasion."

Russian president Vladimir Putin has opted not to attend the gathering in person but his foreign minister Sergei Lavrov is expected to attend.

Mr Sunak's official spokesman said there was "no set moment" for the British leader and Mr Lavrov to meet.

But he said the Prime Minister will "use any opportunity in sessions to remind Lavrov to his face about the incredible damage their illegal war is causing, both in Ukraine and globally".

Rishi Sunak
Rishi Sunak. Picture: Getty

In response to Mr Putin collapsing the Black Sea Grain Initiative, which allowed ships carrying grain to leave southern Ukrainian ports without fear of attack, No 10 confirmed London will host a global food security summit in November.

Britain's military and security services will also monitor the Black Sea in a bid to deter Russia from striking cargo ships that are transporting grain from Ukraine to developing countries.

Leaders of the G20, which includes the European Union and the likes of China, the US, Brazil and Russia, began holding summits following the 2008 global financial crisis, creating a top-level forum to discuss international challenges.

During the three-day trip, Mr Sunak is scheduled to address the main summit about international efforts to tackle climate change and support for the global economy, as well as focusing on issues such as migration and the war in Ukraine.

The Prime Minister's spokesman said: "Building a strong global economy is at the heart of the Prime Minister's priorities - we cannot reduce inflation, create jobs and grow our own economy without working closely with other major economies.

"So the Prime Minister will use this G20 summit to lead a global conversation on bringing down inflation, increasing economic security and harnessing the technologies of the future."

Lord Bilimoria asserts India is a country the UK can "trust" ahead of PM's possible trade deal

Labour's shadow foreign secretary David Lammy said Mr Sunak would be arriving at the G20 "as a minnow on the global stage".

He said: "He arrives in Delhi without the UK-India trade deal the Tories promised would be completed by last October.

"On climate, Sunak is chaotically retreating from his Government's previous promises.

"And unlike the vast majority of the other world leaders, he can't even be bothered to attend the UN General Assembly later this month.

"This G20 cannot just be used as an opportunity for personal networking and Instagram content.

"Britain needs a Prime Minister who will use the G20 to rebuild our credibility with key allies in the US and the EU, while forging new partnerships on trade, climate and critical minerals with rising powers."