Britain’s prime ministerial candidate Jeremy Hunt has reached out to the Indian diaspora to boost his chances against Boris Johnson, reiterating his plans to strengthen the “incredibly important” bilateral ties and strike a post-Brexit Free Trade Agreement.
The 52-year-old UK foreign secretary, who is going head to head with former foreign secretary Johnson, wrote to the Conservative Friends of India (CFIN), saying he looks forward to engaging with India.
He reiterated his plans to further strengthen the “incredibly important” India-UK relationship and strike a post-Brexit Free Trade Agreement (FTA).
“I look forward to engaging with India to negotiate a free trade agreement following Britain’s exit from the European Union later this year,” Hunt said in a letter addressed to the CFIN membership.
“Given the closeness of our two countries, I hope and expect we will be able to agree this very soon,” he said.
CFIN, co-chaired by British-Indian businessman Rami Ranger and Conservative Party MP Zac Goldsmith, promotes closer ties between the ruling Conservative Party and India.
As it is made up of the Tory party membership base, CFIN members will be among the nearly 166,000 voters set to cast their postal ballot to elect a new party leader who will go on to become Britain’s Prime Minister on July 23.
“With 1,451,862 British people of Indian-origins living in the UK and close to 150,000 British people living in India, the ongoing relationship between our two countries is incredibly important,” notes Hunt, in the letter issued this week.
The senior Conservative Party leader hailed the “living bridge” of the Indian diaspora between India and the UK and pledged that as Prime Minister, he would look forward to working with Prime Minister Narendra Modi on his new agenda, especially on areas such as building climate resilience and improving the ease of doing business.
“As Prime Minister, I would ensure that our relationship continues to expand, as both countries work together for mutual benefit, creating prosperity, championing the rules-based international system and working together to address common threats and challenges.
“Both India and the UK have major roles to play in a safe and secure world, and our focus should be on the future, working to sustain and build a flourishing partnership,” he said.
Quoting some statistics, he pointed out that almost 20,000 Indian students came to the UK last year and that the numbers are now over 70 per cent higher compared to just two years earlier in 2016.
He added: “Skilled workers from India in 2018 increased at the fastest rate for any country. We still issue more skilled work visas to Indians than to the rest of the world combined.
“Under my leadership, Britain will continue to be a global, outward-looking, tolerant country”.
Hunt and Johnson are both conducting a series of hustings up and down the UK in an attempt to woo enough votes from the Conservative Party membership.
Hunt will host a ‘Telephone Town Hall’ on Sunday and invited all CFIN members to connect with him directly during the session.
Postal ballots are set to be issued to all Tory party members across the UK by Monday, with polls set to close by 5 PM on July 22 after which the counting process will begin for the result to be declared the next day.
The new leader is unlikely to move into the Downing Street right away, with a handover process set to take place between May and the new incumbent.
Following her failure to secure Parliament’s backing for a Brexit deal, Theresa May had formally resigned in early June and has been functioning as a caretaker Prime Minister until a new leader is elected.