Theresa May’s first visit to India as British Prime Minister earlier this week sent a clear signal to the world of the close ties the two countries share, the acting high commissioner of India to the UK has said. Dinesh Patnaik, who was involved in preparations for the high-profile tour, also dismissed any reports that the visit was overshadowed by visa and immigration issues.
“The biggest outcome of the visit is the signal it sends to the world of the close relationship between India and the UK. We had agreed on a biennial visit, which is that every two years, the Prime Ministers on both sides would meet. “The fact that Prime Minister Theresa May has gone within one year of Prime Minister (Narendra) Modi’s visit to the UK speaks volumes of the importance she attaches to India,” he told PTI.
“This was the first major bilateral visit by her outside the European Union (EU). The message is that the UK considers India of primary importance… There is no question that the visit has moved the relationship forward and was overall a very successful one,” he said. Asked if the UK’s toughening stance on visas overshadowed the visit, he said: “I really want to make it clear that nowhere was the visa issue a big thing for both our countries. After Brexit and the strong feeling around immigration control, it was assumed that it was topmost on the agenda.
“The main agenda was trade and technology. India is not wanting to push Indians into the UK. Our government’s position is that we want access for our people everywhere in the world. We are a big nation with a lot to offer the world and we want Indians to be able to access anywhere in the world – be it as tourists, short-term workers, professionals, businessmen, technical entrepreneurs, or as students.
“So our message is don’t put in place rules and regulations which restrict access of Indians. But we don’t want to push.” The envoy, who as India’s deputy high commissioner to Britain stepped in when Navtej Sarna recently left to take charge as the Indian ambassador in the US, said the visit reflected good chemistry between Prime Minister Modi and her British counterpart.
“Both Prime Ministers got on very well. Prime Minister Modi had a good relationship with former Prime Minister David Cameron and it was to be seen if the same chemistry and dynamics worked this time. And, it seems it has worked very well. “The one-hour bilateral one to one meeting between the two PMs continued for almost two hours. Though we won’t know what was discussed but the fact is they spoke cordially and the chemistry and body language between them showed that there is a great relationship between the two PMs,” he said.
In reference to the impact Brexit could have on India-UK ties, Patnaik described it as a “work in progress”. “In my view Brexit or no Brexit, the relationship between India and the UK is on an upward path. Brexit brings with it both challenges and opportunities. The opportunities lie in the fact that India and the UK bilaterally have a very strong relationship. And how Brexit will impact that is a work in progress, which has already started,” he said.