Prime Minister Boris Johnson will fly to India in January 2021 in an effort to strengthen economic and political relations between the two countries.
It will be Johnson’s first major bilateral visit since becoming PM, and will come soon after the UK leaves the EU single market at the end of the post-Brexit transition period on 31 December.
The announcement of the visit by Number 10 comes after the two countries earlier this year agreed to explore opportunities for expanding and deepening their trade relationship.
It also comes with the UK and EU still trying to thrash out a post-Brexit trade agreement. The UK has signed numerous other trade deals around the world – but economists say they would be far outweighed by the damage from a no-deal Brexit.
Number 10 said Johnson would use the visit to try to boost cooperation in key areas important to Britain. They include trade, investment, defence, health and climate change.
Johnson said he looks forward to “delivering the quantum leap in our bilateral relationship that Prime Minister [Narendra] Modi and I have pledged to achieve”.
“As a key player in the Indo-Pacific region, India is an increasingly indispensable partner for the United Kingdom as we work to boost jobs and growth, confront shared threats to our security and protect our planet.”
PM will hope to dodge visa issue
When then Prime Minister Theresa May visited India in 2016, visas became a key issue. India has long accused the UK of making it too difficult for Indians to gain visas.
From 1 January, the UK’s new “points-based” immigration system will be in place. It will ostensibly put EU citizens and Indians on an equal platform.
However, the system will only accept “skilled workers” if they have a job offer from a sponsor and will be earning at least £25,600. They can be accepted on a lower salary if there is a shortage of workers or they have a PhD.
The PM’s visit to India comes during a significant year for the UK on the world stage. It is hosting the G7 leaders’ meeting and the COP26 climate change summit.
Number 10 said Johnson had invited India to be a guest nation at the G7. South Korea and Australia are the two others.