Sadiq Khan’s #LondonIsOpen campaign to the subcontinent, which has been received with much enthusiasm in India, is a first of its kind, with Khan being the first London Mayor to visit both India and Pakistan. The Mayor’s campaign to promote trade and cultural ties between the UK and India comes at a time when Britain faces a brave new post-Brexit world. It emphasises the UK’s need to urgently shore up its international alliances, and in particular its relationship with India. Never before has it been more vital for the UK to secure a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with India, and boost trade and investment between the two nations.
India is sprinting ahead as the world’s fastest growing economy – it recorded 6.3 per cent growth in the period up to September just last week – and the UK must recognise the shift in the balance of power and forge a more strategic relationship with Modi’s new ‘global’ India.
The UK and India can find many synergies: the City of London is already the leading centre of offshore rupee finance, while India is the third-largest source of foreign direct investment in the UK. More than 800 Indian companies are present in the UK and it is the second-largest job creator – indeed, the Tata Group is Britain’s largest manufacturer-employer.
There is also a huge scope for the UK and India to find common platforms for shared success, in reviving the Commonwealth as a vibrant trade and strategic bloc, along with strong opportunities to partner on global issues from cyber security to climate change. But to seize such opportunities the UK needs to bend on greater movement of people and services between the two markets, and be more receptive to Indian views on immigration and trade. This means engaging with the Indian demand for higher education and world-class skills training, specifically in science, technology and engineering where the opportunities for India are huge.
Sadiq’s visit is a brilliant example of how the UK’s diaspora can be deployed as a tool to enhance the UK’s overseas links. We also need to inspire the view that ‘Global Britain’ means an ‘Open Britain’ – not just in the way that we engage with the rest of the world, but in the way that we approach and embrace new ideas and thinking. With nothing certain except for the prospect of future change, being open to this is the only sure route to success.
This article first appeared in City AM magazine 5 December 2017