Visas not in play for UK-India trade deal: Boris Johnson

Visas not in play for UK-India trade deal: Boris Johnson
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UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson has dismissed the notion that visa rules are set to be relaxed for Indians in pursuit of a free trade agreement (FTA) with India.

During the Prime Minister’s Questions (PMQs) session in the House of Commons this week, Johnson was asked by one of his Conservative Party MPs to comment on reports that emerged earlier about easier visas for Indian professionals and students to make an FTA more attractive to India. Conservative MP Sir Edward Leigh asked Johnson if a relaxation of visa controls from India was in the works to secure a trade agreement.

Johnson replied: “I don’t recognise the account he’s given at all. We don’t do free trade deals on that basis.

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“Net immigration since we took back control [Brexit] has gone down… our new Borders Bill currently in the House of Lords enables us properly to take back control of our borders and to tackle illegal immigration.”

Free movement of people from within the European Union (EU) was a key issue during the 2016 Brexit referendum, with Johnson pledging to “take back control” to create a “fairer” visa regime for applicants from within and outside of the EU post-Brexit.

Tory MP Sir Edward Leigh asked in the Commons: “Apparently the government is thinking of relaxing visa controls from India in order to get a free trade deal. Whilst a free trade deal is valuable in itself, we should not be held to ransom.

“Would he agree with me that our new working-class voters who voted Brexit did not vote to replace immigration from Europe with more immigration from the rest of the world… will he convince us that he is determined to connect to our supporters and control immigration.”

His query follows reports that UK International Trade Secretary Anne-Marie Trevelyan is expected to offer a visa scheme similar to that agreed as part of the UK’s FTA with Australia when she travels to Delhi later this month to kick-start FTA talks.

A Department for International Trade (DIT) spokesperson said: “India is projected to become the world’s third largest economy by 2050 and a free trade agreement will open up huge opportunities for UK businesses to trade with India’s £2.25 trillion economy.

“Companies up and down the country can look forward to the benefits, from manufacturers in the West Midlands to tech experts in Belfast, and we look forward to launching negotiations early this year.”

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The UK government’s stated priority for the FTA talks is a “broad and comprehensive” FTA, which achieves short and long-term benefits for British businesses. The UK’s target will be on reduced tariffs from up to 150 per cent on key exports such as cars and Scotch whisky to make UK goods more competitive in the Indian market.

Back in May 2021, Prime Ministers Narendra Modi and Boris Johnson clinched an Enhanced Trade Partnership (ETP) during a virtual summit, with the goal to double bilateral trade to £50 billion by 2030.

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