A day after announcing that British Prime Minister Boris Johnson will be the chief guest at the Republic Day celebrations in January, the visiting British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab on Wednesday said that he has “discussed” the situation arising out of the farmers’ protests with External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar and underlined that “your politics” is, in some sense, “our politics” because of the Indian diaspora in Britain.
In an interaction with select Indian journalists in New Delhi after meeting Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Raab, however, said that India has a “vibrant heritage of peaceful protests”, the UK “respects it”.
After the meeting, Modi tweeted, “Excellent meeting with @DominicRaab, UK Secretary of State of @FCDOGovUK. Discussed the vast potential of the India-UK partnership in the post-COVID, post-BREXIT world. Looking forward to next month’s visit by PM @BorisJohnson as Chief Guest at our Republic Day celebrations.”
Excellent meeting with @DominicRaab, UK Secretary of State of @FCDOGovUK. Discussed the vast potential of the India-UK partnership in the post-COVID, post-BREXIT world. Looking forward to next month’s visit by PM @BorisJohnson as Chief Guest at our Republic Day celebrations. pic.twitter.com/E8cpkqbOJT
— Narendra Modi (@narendramodi) December 16, 2020
Responding to questions on the farmers’ protests, Raab, 46, said, “ I discussed the situation with Foreign minister Jaishankar and obviously, we respect the fact that the reforms going through your system here are domestic reforms. Of course, they have elicited the protests that you refer to, and your politics – in some sense – because of the Indian diaspora in Britain, is our politics. But I think, India, as well as having a market-driven economy also has a vibrant heritage of peaceful protests and vigorous debate, and we watch that with interest and we respect it.”
British MPs of Indian origin had raised the issue of farmers’ protests in the British parliament, to which Johnson had responded that it is a matter between India and Pakistan — which 10, Downing Street later said that the PM had “misheard” the question.
When asked about China’s rise and belligerence in the Indo-Pacific and the India-China border this year, the British Foreign Secretary was cautious in his response and said that the rise of China provides the strategic context and there are “opportunities” as well as “challenges” and “risks”.
He talked about the UK’s strategy with “Indo-Pacific tilt”, which is about being “more engaged in grasping opportunities but also more engaged in managing some of the challenges and the pressures”.
He said that the UK and India can cooperate on “cyber and countering misinformation” and in the “maritime sphere”.
On the Indo-Pacific, Raab said he had discussed with Prime Minister Modi and described India as “ a partner and a friend”, and there will be a “step change” in the cooperation and collaboration.
On the prospect of India-UK Free Trade agreement (FTA) when Johnson visits India next month, he did not give a specific response, but said that the “levels of ambition are very high” across the whole bilateral relationship.
When asked about the extradition of the fugitives, he said there are still some “legal issues outstanding” which are “independent from politics or political intervention”. He however said, “We would like to see those expedited as swiftly as possible”.
Talking about the opportunities for the India-UK relationship, Raab said there are “global opportunities ahead and when we think about strategically, in terms of shared values, in terms of concrete interest, we look at the Indo Pacific. I think you’ll see the United Kingdom or global Britain as we like to say it, look further to the east, and when we look to the Indo-Pacific India is clearly a partner and a friend, where we ought to be far more together.”
“We’re looking at all the things we can do on trade, on maritime cooperation, on climate change cooperation, and a roadmap ahead in the weeks and months ahead…there’s an exciting range of possibilities right across the board…India will be..(a) major strategic partner of choice”, he said.
He also said that India has been invited for the G-7 summit next year being hosted by the UK, as well as the COP-26 summit in November.
Raab will also visit Bengaluru, and has met Environment minister Prakash Javadekar and Education minister Ramesh Pokhriyal in New Delhi.
Raab had announced on Tuesday after holding talks with External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar during which the two sides agreed on the key elements of an ambitious 10-year roadmap to further broaden ties, and also boost strategic cooperation in the Indo-Pacific region.