The United Kingdom will not alter its immigration policy in order to secure a free trade deal with India, British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s office said on Thursday, Reuters reported.
“The prime minister believes that the current levels of migration are too high,” a spokesperson for Sunak told reporters. “...To be crystal clear, there are no plans to change our immigration policy to achieve this free trade agreement and that includes student visas.”
However, during his visit to New Delhi for the G20 summit that starts on Saturday, Sunak might discuss the possibility of offering corporate visas to Indian businesspersons, The Guardian reported.
“The only aspect of the movement of people covered by a [free trade agreement] is business mobility – that’s the temporary movement of business people for specific purposes,” the spokesperson added ahead of Sunak’s visit.
The trade deal has been in discussion for more than two years and the latest stance taken by the Rishi Sunak government could further delay its progress. Immigration has been one of the major bones of contention with British Home Secretary Suella Braverman saying last year that Indians make up the largest number of visa overstayers in the UK.
Last month, Indian Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman had expressed hope that the deal will be closed by the end of this year. But according to The Guardian, it is unlikely that it will be finalised before the two countries go to polls next year.
“India wants to do an early agreement on goods, but the risk is that instead of being the start of a wider trade agreement, that becomes the end point and the UK doesn’t get any of the more fundamental things it wants,” an unidentified person with knowledge of the negotiations told the newspaper.
Sunak and his Trade Secretary Kemi Badenoch have also taken off the table an “early harvest” deal under which it had been proposed that New Delhi would reduce import tariffs on certain goods in return for benefits for Indians living in the UK.
The Narendra Modi government was ready to slash tariffs on scotch whisky by one-third in return for tax reliefs for Indian workers living in the UK, The Sunday Times had reported last month.