In a bid to attract business travellers from India and assuage their concerns, British Prime Minister Theresa May announced here Monday that Indian businessmen will have access to UK’s registered traveller scheme. She invited the Indian government to become the first in the world to nominate top business executives for the “Great Club” — a specialised fast-track visa and immigration service launched by her in 2013 when she was Home Secretary.
Kicking off talks on boosting trade ahead of Britain’s departure from the European Union, May, making her first bilateral trip outside Europe since Britain voted to quit the bloc, described as “limitless” the potential of the relationship with India.
Besides visa issues, terrorism dominated the bilateral conversation between May and Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The British PM strongly condemned the September terrorist attack on the Indian Army Brigade headquarters in Uri and offered condolences to the victims and their families. And the two leaders called on Pakistan to bring the perpetrators of the November 2008 terrorist attacks in Mumbai and 2016 Pathankot attack to justice.
The joint statement said “there should be no glorification of terrorists as martyrs” — a clear reference to Hizbul militant Burhan Wani who was killed by security forces in Kashmir on July 8 and later hailed as a “martyr” by Pakistan. Last month, BIMSTEC countries had also used the same formulation. Without naming Pakistan, the Indo-UK statement said that the two PMs also called for strong measures against all those who encourage, support and finance terrorism, provide sanctuary to terrorists and terror groups, and “falsely extol their virtues”.
On the issue of extradition of fugitive businessmen Vijay Mallya and Lalit Modi, the two Prime Ministers affirmed their strong commitment to enhance cooperation under the Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty and agreed that fugitives and criminals should not be allowed to escape the law.
Modi asked British companies to look at multiple opportunities in the Indian defence sector. “Looking beyond trade in defence equipment, I invite them to build partnerships with Indian enterprises that focus on manufacturing, technology transfer and co-development,” Modi said.
After a three-hour meeting followed by lunch, May, with Modi by her side, announced the business visa offer. On the issue of students’ mobility, however, there was little visible progress. May, in fact, linked easier visa process to repatriation of illegal Indian immigrants — a formulation made for the first time which has raised eyebrows in Delhi.
“As part of this, the UK will consider further improvements to our visa offer if at the same time we can step up the speed and volume of returns of Indians with no right to remain in the UK. And the UK will continue to welcome the brightest and best Indian students, with latest figures showing that 9 out of 10 applications are granted.”
According to the joint statement, “India will have one of the best UK visa services of any country in the world, with more application points than anywhere else and the only place where you can get a same day visa.”
The statement also said that the two leaders noted that the UK remained a popular destination for Indian students. May noted that there remained no cap on overall numbers of international students studying at recognised educational institutions in the UK and that the UK Home Secretary had recently announced her intention to consult on changes to the UK student visa regime.
They also announced the launch of a senior UK-India dialogue on Home Affairs issues which will take place bi-annually and be chaired at Permanent Secretary/Secretary level. The Prime Ministers expect this dialogue to make progress on key issues of mutual concern, including opportunities to make the visa system simpler and more efficient, and steps to improve the integrity of border and immigration systems.
On the issue of terrorism, Modi said, “I also discussed with Prime Minister May, ways to purposefully work together to combat the growing forces of radicalization and terrorism. We agreed that it is not a limited security challenge. Its arc of threat spreads across nations and regions…I conveyed our deep concerns to Prime Minister May regarding cross-border terrorism and the need for the international community to take strong action against States that support and sponsor terrorism.”
On her part, May said, “We both face a shared threat of terrorism — as individual countries, as partners, and as global powers whose interests lie in a stable world, founded on the rules-based international system. Today, we have agreed to strengthen our co-operation, in particular by sharing best practice to tackle the use of the internet by violent extremists and to reduce radicalisation and recruitment attempts online.”
The joint statement said that the Prime Ministers tasked the Defence Consultative Group (DCG) on November 15-16 to advance the bilateral defence cooperation agenda, including the UK’s proposals for capability partnerships, through a range of activities including military to military cooperation, training, exchange of subject matter experts, research and technology linkages as well as defence manufacturing. The two sides signed two documents pertaining to ease of doing business and intellectual property rights. May said that more than 1 billion pounds ($1.24 billion) in deals would be signed during her trip, and by partnering with Modi’s initiative to build 100 “smart” cities, British business could unlock a further 2 billion pounds over five years.