In his last media briefing as High commissioner to India, Sir Dominique Asquith KCMG highlighted the new ‘outwork looking’ post-Brexit UK. He expressed his pleasure over the improved perception of India in the UK and vice versa. He spoke on a range of issues including India-UK relations post-Brexit, UK’s relations with EU post-Brexit, and climate issue.
On Brexit, he explained that new type of relationship with the EU is expected. “It will be outward-looking Britain”, he said. The UK is directing its energy towards embracing economic opportunities, building and enhancing the historic ties, and building new partnerships. On implications of Brexit for India, he assured that the UK will remain India’s most important and closest European partner. He said, “In all honesty, if you look at some of the perceptions and polling we have done over the years particularly recently about the perceptions of India and UK, I am genuinely both proud and heartened about the results in terms of public perceptions of the benefit of the relationship to both countries and favourability with which the UK is viewed…We are in a good position to continue to work together.” Furthermore, He drew parallels between the current situation of India and UK for wanting to define themselves and not being defined by others. Mentioning the expansion of diplomatic, security, and trade activity – he emphasized the UK’s focus on national interest and distinctive approach. He mentioned UKs ‘Force For Good’ campaign as an example.
Speaking on the climate issue, he said it was no coincidence that the Claire Perry O’Neill came to India as her first international visit for Raisina Dialogue 2020. She engaged with a very broad spectrum of actors including the government of India, civil society, business, environmental bodies etc. Claire Perry O’Neill is president of COP26 being hosted in Glasgow in November 2020. He described India as an important partner in tackling the climate change issue. The UK has recently joined India-led International Solar Alliance. The UK is also a founding member of India-led Coalition for Disaster Resilient Infrastructure. The high commissioner also expressed the possibility of future cooperation in the electric vehicle programme. Regarding financing challenges of dealing with climate change issues, he mentioned that the Green Growth Equity Fund jointly set up by UK and India has already started distributing funds to renewable sector power projects.
“The UK has the capability, shared focus and unravelled ties to be India’s closest European partner; our task is now to take that partnership to the next level”, said the High Commissioner while expressing the importance of India-UK ties.
Speaking on Indian diaspora and people to people ties between two countries, he expressed pleasure over strengthened ties between the two countries. He said “I am particularly proud that student numbers have almost tripled over my time here in India. With the government focused on strengthening UK-India education links and encouraging Indian students to visit”. Highlighting achievements of Indian diaspora in the UK, he said, “The UK has the most Desi cabinet ever. There are currently 15 Indian-origin MPs in the Parliament. New UK cabinet is a true reflection of the living bridge”. The number of Indian origin academics in the UK has also increased by 40%. More business visas are given to Indian nationals than any other country. Due to the cricket world cup, the number of Indian visitors to the UK also increased. For the first time, over half a million Indians visited the UK. Student applications to the UK have also spiked after the announcement of the 2-year post-study visa for students. He said, “Attracting the talent that exists here is very important for us. Making sure that young talented people come and join the diaspora”.
The UK will continue to attract talent from around the world to develop its economy. Technology, research, and foreign direct investment are major focus areas. Last year the UK received two and a half times more FDI than France, Germany, and Italy combined.
He expressed his pleasure over the balance of investment between Indian and UK. Indian companies are still attracted to invest in the UK. During his stay, revenue generated has doubled. During the same four years, around 150 new UK companies have established their business in India. British Telecom (BT) has its largest facility outside the UK in Gurgaon.
The technology partnership between the two countries launched in 2018 is also progressing. UK has launched ‘Innovation Challenge Fund’ to attract talent and interest from innovators and startups to partner with the UK.
Highlighting the importance of the Indian Ocean region, he informed the UK has diplomatic representation in 27 out of 28 Indian Ocean littoral states. The relation between the commonwealth nations is also of importance to the UK. The UK is focusing on partnerships along with security. Stressing the importance of the rules-based international system, the high commissioner expressed the importance of the ability to trade freely across the ocean.