Sir Richard Stagg
A “lack of trust” permeates the bilateral relationship between Britain and India, Britain’s former High Commissioner to India said this week, raising questions about the ability of the two countries to forge a closer relationship in the wake of Brexit.
When it came to India, the British government “doesn’t have a strategy,” said Sir Richard Stagg, who was High Commissioner in New Delhi between 2007 and 2011, adding that rather than involving a joined up approach, “random interventions” were made by individuals within the British government that were “inevitably ineffective”.
Pointing to India’s concerns around Britain’s relationship with Pakistan, the recent efforts of the Indian government to extradite high net worth individuals such as Vijay Mallya back to the country (and reports that Nirav Modi may have sought asylum in Britain), and the recent row over student visas, Mr. Stagg, warned that the U.K. government had to “internalise” the reality of India’s shifting priorities, and recognise the areas where it sought cooperation, if it were to further the relationship.
“Not only is the U.K. quite a small dot but the U.K. government is also very distracted by other issues... the disjoint makes it very difficult to get the relationship working on shared interest and trust,” he said at an event in Parliament on post-Brexit bilateral ties.
Among the key obstacles, he said were the perception in India that Britain was “too supportive” of Pakistan, and concerns about the impact of Britain’s visa regime. He also pointed to the growing perception in Indian government circles that the British were “not doing as much as they could or should to facilitate” the return of high net-worth “Bollygarchs” who had sought refuge in the U.K., though also noted there was little the British government could do on this count because most cases were within the judicial system.
Mr. Stagg , who had spent four and a half years working on the EU-India Free Trade Agreement while High Commissioner, also raised questions about Britain’s ability to forge a trade agreement with India. “The country that has been most difficult with the issues was the U.K.,” he said of the EU-India FTA negotiations, pointing to British demands around opening up of financial and legal services in India, and its opposition to India’s visa and mobility demands as part of any agreement.