British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab arrived in India for a bilateral visit on Monday night and will meet External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar on Tuesday.
The two ministers will hold talks on bilateral, regional and international issues of mutual interest and are expected to review efforts to forge a 10-year roadmap for the India-UK relationship and discuss a defence logistics agreement. Raab will also have official meetings with Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar and Education Minister Ramesh Pokhriyal.
As part of his four-day visit, the British Foreign Secretary will also travel to Bengaluru, where he will meet Karnataka Chief Minister B S Yediyurappa on December 17.
The Ministry of External Affairs said Raab’s visit will “pave the way for further strengthening of the partnership across trade, defence, climate, migration and mobility, education, and health sectors in the post-Covid, post-Brexit context”. The ministry, while announcing Raab’s visit on Monday, said India and the UK have had a strategic partnership since 2004 that has been marked by regular high-level exchanges and growing cooperation in diverse areas. ,
Raab’s visit assumes significance at a time when New Delhi has approached British Prime Minister Boris Johnson through informal channels to be chief guest for Republic Day celebrations.
Usually, the invitation for the parade and confirmation are sealed by the end of November, but with Covid-19 disrupting diplomatic calendars, New Delhi had sent out feelers to Johnson to know if he is willing to travel to India to be chief guest at the celebrations.
However, given the surge in Covid-19 cases in the UK since October, it could be difficult for the British PM to commit to an overseas travel engagement. So Delhi is keeping its fingers crossed.
If Johnson is able to visit, he will be the sixth British leader to be chief guest on Republic Day and the first British PM since John Major in 1993.
An invitation to be chief guest on Republic Day is symbolic from the Indian government’s perspective. New Delhi has been weaving a strategy with hospitality to decide its chief guest. Every year, the choice is dictated by a number of factors — strategic and diplomatic, business interests and geo-politics. The choice of the UK is interesting since ties with post-Brexit UK will be tested on multiple fronts — economic, people-to-people, political and strategic levels. Both sides will be keen to engage with each other, and Delhi will want to leverage its relationship with the EU, while dealing with the UK — especially on economic ties.