2022 India-UK Definers: Desi-Origin PM, Trade Agreements, Extraditions

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2022 India-UK Definers: Desi-Origin PM, Trade Agreements, Extraditions

| Updated: December 25, 2022 15:06

At 42, the British Indian leader is also the youngest in 200 years and firmly set his stall in favour of India soon after being elected Conservative Party leader on Diwali.

His appointment was just after BoJo’s Diwali deadline to clinch a much-anticipated India-UK free trade agreement (FTA). Since the pact never took off, Sunak declared that the UK is “delivering a new FTA with India.” The sixth round of negotiations will take place in New Delhi onwards January 13. 

Bilateral relationship between the two nations was jolted when his predecessor Liz Truss’s Home Secretary, Suella Braverman, threw the FTA talks into disarray with ill-judged attacks on Indians as “visa overstayers.”

Sunak’s reappointment of his fellow Indian-origin colleague to his Cabinet in the same post was accompanied by some placating moves. The UK-India Young Professionals Scheme was set afoot soon after the first meeting between Sunak and Modi at the G20 Summit in Indonesia.

“I am pleased that even more of India’s brightest young people will now have the opportunity to experience all that life in the UK has to offer – and vice-versa – making our economies and societies richer,” declared Sunak, with reference to the reciprocal scheme to be launched in early 2023. It will allow 3,000 18-30-year-old degree-educated Indians to access visas annually to live and work in the UK for up to two years, with a similar offer for British graduates.

It marks one of many highlights for Indian students in the UK, which overtook China for the first time as the largest cohort of international students. However, with migration numbers shooting up, there are growing murmurings of a clamp down on international students, something education chiefs have warned against and will remain an issue on the 2023 watch list.

The reinstatement of the UK on the list of countries that are offered speedy e-visas for travellers was another key outcome of that all-important first Modi-Sunak bilateral meeting, confirmed by India’s new High Commissioner to the UK – Vikram Doraiswami, who also became the first Indian diplomat to present his credentials to King Charles III.

Meanwhile, the ongoing battle to extradite economic offenders wanted in India on fraud and money laundering charges moved slowly through the UK’s legal system. Fugitive diamond merchant Nirav Modi, wanted in the estimated USD 2 billion Punjab National Bank (PNB) loan scam case, lost a major appeal against his extradition on mental health grounds and is due to be extradited by next month. However, delays are expected if Modi makes a human rights appeal in Europe or applies for asylum akin to former Kingfisher Airlines chief Vijay Mallya’s case, which is believed to be caught up in the UK’s confidential asylum process.

Sanjay Bhandari, wanted for tax evasion and money laundering, also continues to appeal against his extradition cleared by Westminster Magistrates’ Court in London.

Overall, Collins Dictionary’s Word of the Year “permacrisis” – an extended period of instability and insecurity – best describes 2022, given the political upheavals and an ongoing cost of living crisis due to the war in Ukraine and the aftermath of the COVID pandemic.

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