UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson said it is “frustrating” to have to call off his visit to India, scheduled for April 25-26, but will instead speak virtually to Prime Minister Narendra Modi later this month to keep the plans for an enhanced UK-India relationship on track.
" and I have basically come to the conclusion that, very sadly, I won't be able to go ahead with the trip,” Johnson said, during a visit to Gloucestershire on April 19 (pictured).
"I do think it's only sensible to postpone, given what's happened in India, the shape of the pandemic there. Countries around the world including our own have been through this – I think everybody's got a massive amount of sympathy with India, what they're going through," he said.
Last week, Public Health England (PHE) said that 77 cases of the so-called “double mutant” Indian variant have been detected in the UK since last month and that it has now been classed as a Variant Under Investigation (VUI) in the country. Pressure had been mounting on Johnson to call off the visit to India amid growing concerns over the new variant, which is believed to be behind a current spike in infections in India.
In a joint statement on behalf of the British and Indian governments, Downing Street said: “In the light of the current coronavirus situation, will not be able to travel to India next week.
“Instead, Prime Ministers Modi and Johnson will speak later this month to agree and launch their ambitious plans for the future partnership between the UK and India. They will remain in regular contact beyond this, and look forward to meeting in person later this year.”
The Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) in New Delhi said the decision followed a mutual agreement and that the two leaders will hold a virtual meeting in the coming days instead.
“The two sides will be holding a virtual meeting in the coming days to launch plans for a transformed India-UK relationship. Both leaders attach the highest importance to taking the India-UK partnership to its fullest potential and propose to remain in close touch in this regard and look forward to an in-person meeting later in the year,” the MEA said.
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Over the weekend, UK Opposition Labour Party joined calls for Boris Johnson to conduct the discussions with the Indian PM remotely via Zoom and cancel the physical visit, which had already been shortened to focus on a day-long packed schedule on Monday, April 26. Both sides were to agree a ‘Roadmap 2030’ for re-energised India-UK relations across trade and investment and climate action, which is now likely to be signed off remotely later this month.
The visit has already been postponed once, when a spike in coronavirus infections and national lockdown in Britain meant Johnson had to withdraw as chief guest at India’s celebrations in January.
His next face to face meeting with the Indian PM, whom he refers to as “friend”, may now take place at the G7 Summit in Cornwall in June, where India has been invited as a guest nation by host-country UK.