Rishi Sunak is optimistic he will strike a trade deal between Britain and India, promising the two countries can “overcome” final negotiating hurdles.
After meeting Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the G20 summit, Mr Sunak suggested the finish line of negotiations was in sight.
The British Prime Minister said after a “warm and productive” conversation with Mr Modi that there was a “desire on both sides for a successful trade deal to be concluded”.
“The opportunities are there for both countries, but there is still a lot of hard work ahead and we must work at it, which we will,” Mr Sunak said.
Downing Street said the pair had agreed that ministers and negotiating teams would work “at pace” towards a free trade agreement
On a busy day for the Prime Minister in New Delhi, he said:
- Striking an optimistic tone regarding free trade negotiations with India
- Left the door open for a benefit cut to fund a tax cut
- Welcomed the arrest of escaped terror suspect Daniel Khalife
- Raised the case of imprisoned Briton Jagtar Singh Johal with the Indian Prime Minister
Mr Sunak, dubbed the “son-in-law of India” due to his wife Akshata Murty, who is an Indian citizen, and his own Indian heritage, is trying to complete a deal Boris Johnson announced in October last year.
A sticking point in the negotiations has been India’s alleged desire for a deal that would ease immigration controls for Indians, which has raised concerns among Mr Sunak’s top team.
The Prime Minister’s spokesman confirmed last week that officials had “no plans” to change immigration rules to enforce the deal.
Another problem is the different levels of access that British car manufacturers are supposed to be given to the Indian market of 1.4 billion people.
A key difference between London and New Delhi is also evident in their stance on the Russian invasion of Ukraine, where Mr Sunak has vehemently condemned Vladimir Putin’s 19-month assault on Kiev, while India has maintained ties with the Kremlin since Moscow’s troops left Ukraine crossed the border in February 2022.
Ahead of the meeting, Mr Sunak told reporters that a deal with India was “not a given” and he would not set “arbitrary deadlines” for striking a deal.
But with reports suggesting he could return to India in the fall, the Indian government’s goal of ratifying new trade terms by the end of the year could be achieved.
The deal would be a big win for post-Brexit Britain and would give British companies cheaper access to a huge market.
A Downing Street spokesman said Mr Sunak and Mr Modi had “reflected on the close and growing relationship between Britain and India, reflected in the ‘living bridge’ between our people”.
“They agreed on the importance of building on the past and focusing on the future to cement a modern partnership in advanced defense technology, trade and innovation,” she added.
Mr Sunak “reaffirmed the UK’s ambition to deliver a ground-breaking trade deal that benefits businesses and workers in both countries”, she said.
Also at the G20 summit, Mr Sunak refused to rule out cutting welfare payments to finance a tax default before the next election.
He declined to “speculate” on what will be in Chancellor Jeremy Hunt’s budget in November, amid reports that the government could promise benefit claimants a below-inflation rise.
Mr Sunak said he was “very pleased” that Khalife had been arrested and praised the efforts of police and the public to find him.
And he said he raised the case of jailed Briton Jagtar Singh Johal in his meeting with India’s Mr Modi.
Speaking to broadcasters, the Prime Minister said, “Yes, I was able to do that, along with a number of other consular matters that Prime Minister Modi and I discussed in the time available to us.”
“And the Foreign Office also continues to support Mr. Johals’ family and will continue to do so.”