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Labour's Landslide Victory In The UK: Implications For British And Indian Relations – IMPRI Impact And Policy Research Institute

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Labour's Landslide Victory in the UK: Implications for British and Indian Relations

Anil Trigunayat

As far as India is concerned although not much change in UK’s focus on Indian opportunity is likely given the strategic and historic nature of relationship, certain issues would need to be watched, writes World Affairs Columnist and former Diplomat Anil Trigunayat.

Tories licked the dust in the Thursday (July 4) elections in UK where the Britishers gave them a convincing and expansive margin of victory over the conservatives under the Indian origin Prime Minister Rishi Sunak. Fourteen years in politics are good enough to create an anti-establishment syndrome and the electorate in democracies conveys its message and frustrations in no uncertain terms.

Tories licked the dust in the Thursday (July 4) elections in UK where the Britishers gave them a convincing and expansive margin of victory over the conservatives under the Indian origin Prime Minister Rishi Sunak. Fourteen years in politics are good enough to create an anti-establishment syndrome and the electorate in democracies conveys its message and frustrations in no uncertain terms.

Rishi Sunak bowed out gracefully but with a stigma of leading an unprecedented defeat. At 10 Downing Street he accepted the anger of British people over the way domestic challenges were not adequately addressed from healthcare and poor state of NHS (National Health Scheme) to economy to inflation.

Keir Starmer also claimed that he will work for ‘Secure borders, safer streets, and everyone treated with dignity and respect at work. The opportunity of clean British power, cutting your energy bills for good. And brick by brick, we will rebuild the infrastructure of opportunity’.  One thing that some Indian psephologists could perhaps learn from the accuracy with which several western elections outcome was predicted by their own ilk.  

The Labour Party storming home under Keir Starmer has promised the moon and the change which according to him ‘begins now’. In his first speech he assured the British people that he will rebuild’ new Britain’. For him the opposition is pretty much decimated and even the pro Scotland Party has considerably lost its heft.

UK’s Westminster system has a good institution of Shadow PM and Cabinet which is every so ready and fully conversant with the issues so that the blue print pf the roadmap for addressing the incumbent and pressing issues is not very difficult to roll out should they be in the driving seat. Key appointments have already been made with David Lammy as Foreign Secretary (Minister) and first female Chanceller of the Exchequer. I guess India has clear lead in that regard.

UK’s foreign policy may not see a great change as far as Russia-Ukraine war is concerned as they are likely to continue to support President Zelensky ‘s stance and efforts as were promoted by Boris Johnson aiming to defeat Russia.

Of course it will depend as to what policies USA adopts especially, post November presidential elections , in this regard since London mostly synergises its polices with them.  On the Palestinian issue and Israel-Hamas war, Starmer will be under pressure from his party and legislators to recognize the State of Palestine and retract from unconvincing policies of Israeli PM Netanyahu given the extreme use of force and inflicting damage, death and destruction of Gazans. Hopefully before he does that some kind of ceasefire deal and hostage s exchange might ensue.

As for the competing relations with the European Union Labour has already distanced itself from rejoining but there is every likelihood of greater and closer economic cooperation in the post BREXIT era . Most observers believe that subject to certain redlines a twin approach could be adopted to engage with the EU more intensely including a defence and security pact , broader understandings on migration, emission trading schemes and exploitation of critical minerals as well as standard issues of veterinary matters and food trade rules. 

As far as India is concerned although not much change in UK’s focus on Indian opportunity is likely given the strategic and historic nature of relationship, certain issues would need to be watched. Labour Party has had a divergent view on J&K which is at variance with the official British position of it being a bilateral issue. But PM Starmer, appears to have inched closer to the UK’s position, and reiterated in a meeting with the Indian diaspora saying, “Any constitutional issues in India are a matter for the Indian Parliament, and Kashmir is a bilateral issue for India and Pakistan to resolve peacefully.”

He also clearly spoke against Hindu phobia. Indo-Pacific remains a stronghold for bilateral cooperation in a regional context. Commonwealth still stays as a reasonable interactive platform where New Delhi plays stronger role on global challenges. Besides the Labour manifesto considers and PM Starmer wants a new strategic partnership with India for which unnecessary and unfounded commentary on human rights, democracy and minorities in India could be a redline and hopefully the new government will focus on the positive trajectory.

Prime Minister congratulated PM Starmer on his astounding victory stating ‘looked forward to their positive and constructive collaboration to further strengthen the India-UK comprehensive strategic partnership’. PM Modi also conveyed his appreciation for the excellent efforts made by PM Sunak to enrich and deepen ties with India in bilateral, regional and global context.

Since developing business and economic ties is a key agenda of the Labour party, one could expect a focussed move on reducing the friction points in the India-UK Free Trade Agreement (FTA) so that it could be signed early despite some cynicism and realistic assessments.

Bilateral trade in goods and services has barely grown  to Pounds 38.1 billion last year. UK exports to India decreased by 4.1% to £14.9 billion, and imports from India increased by 18.8% to £23.2 billion over the same period. But the conclusion of FTA estimates it growing to £100 billion by 20230. And, with market access issues on both sides addressed with special focus on migration, mobility and movement of professionals and Mode 4 issues, the FTA could be expedited with sincere efforts on both sides. UK still hovers around the 5th or 6th position as an investor in India.

Although with new dispensation there is always a certain complexity and shadows of the past if one were to believe what candidate Starmer claimed speaking at the Indian Global Forum the odds are for the winning streak. He said last year; “What my Labour government will seek with India is a relationship based on our shared values of democracy and aspiration that will seek a free trade agreement (FTA). We share that ambition…but also a new strategic partnership for global security, climate security, economic security,” .  And hopefully, ’ 2030 Roadmap India-UK Future Relations’ will be pursued vigorously. 

India is an opportunity hard to miss.

Anil Trigunayat, is a former Indian Ambassador to Jordan, Libya and Malta, and currently heads the West Asia Experts Group at Vivekananda International Foundation.

The article was first published in CNBCTV18 as Labour victory in UK | Why it portends well for Britishers, and hopefully for Indians too on July 7, 2024

Disclaimer: All views expressed in the article belong solely to the author and not necessarily to the organisation.

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Acknowledgment: This article was posted by Bhaktiba Jadeja, a research intern at IMPRI.

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