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Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s visit to India in April will activate the Indo-Pacific tilt for Global Britain, as set out in a new comprehensive Integrated Review of foreign and defence policy that sets out the UK’s world view for the next decade.
The relationship is already strong, but over the next 10 years we seek transformation in our cooperation across the full range of our shared interests: This is how the India segment of the UK’s new Integrated Review encapsulates plans for the bilateral relationship over the next decade.
‘Global Britain in a competitive age: The Integrated Review of Security, Defence, Development and Foreign Policy’ has been dubbed the most comprehensive articulation of a foreign policy and national security approach published by a British government in decades and it clearly spells out the much-anticipated “Indo-Pacific tilt”.
At the heart of this tilt lie countries such as India, and , with a visit to India foremost on the agenda of the British Prime Minister.
“I am delighted to announce that I will visit India next month to strengthen our friendship with the world’s biggest democracy,” he said, as he launched the new Review in the House of Commons this week.
The confirmation that the visit in April, which had to be postponed from a planned Republic Day engagement in January amid the UK’s domestic focus on the Covid-19 pandemic crisis, comes as a clear sign that India is very much at the centre of Britain’s renewed worldview. As a definitive post-Brexit positioning, the Review points out that the ability to strike its own trade deals outside the European Union (EU) will allow the UK to grow this important economic relationship further, including through increased bilateral investment flows.
It notes: “India – as the largest democracy in the world – is an international actor of growing importance.
“Our vision is for re-energised trade and investment, rooted in S&T [science and tech] and supporting levelling up in the UK and India alike; enhanced defence cooperation that brings a more secure Indian Ocean Region, building on the existing biannual Ministerial Defence Dialogues; and UK-India leadership to tackle global challenges like climate change, clean energy and global health.”
The Review confirms that a major step towards achieving this vision will include the launch of an Enhanced Trade Partnership within this year, as a roadmap to a potential comprehensive trade deal.
According to official data, trade between the UK and India more than doubled between 2007 and 2019 and the investment relationship supports over half a million jobs in each other’s economies. However, the potential for exponential growth is where the focus now lies.
“This relationship will be underpinned by our largest single-country diplomatic network anywhere in the world, with more than 800 staff spread across eleven posts,” the document notes.
Downing Street officials have said Johnson is particularly looking forward to his visit to India, which will be his very first international tour since the Covid-19 pandemic hit and indeed the first since the UK formally left the EU at the start of this year.
Tackling climate change and preserving biodiversity continue to remain the UK’s number one international priority in the decade ahead.
The relationship with India, described as the “geopolitical centre of the world”, falls broadly within the Review’s wider ambitions – of a Global Britain playing a more proactive role as a force for good with like-minded democracies.
In that context, it will apply for partner status of the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) economic union – of which India is a sectoral dialogue partner and commission the Royal Navy aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth to lead a British and allied task group on a global deployment, visiting the Mediterranean, the Middle East and the Indo-Pacific.
“Britain will remain unswervingly committed to NATO [North Atlantinc Treaty Organisation] and preserving peace and security in Europe, and from this secure basis, we will seek out friends and partners wherever they can be found, building a coalition for openness and innovation, and engaging more deeply in the Indo-Pacific,” said Johnson.
Against this backdrop, countries such as China and Russia are flagged among the challenges and while maintaining trade ties with the former remains very much on the agenda, the latter is viewed as an “acute direct threat to the UK”.
"In all our endeavours, the United States will be our greatest ally and a uniquely close partner in defence, intelligence and security," declared Boris Johnson.
The Review, a voluminous document that will define Britain’s outlook for the foreseeable future, is designed to realign its role in a more competitive world and seeks to underline that the UK cannot rely on an outdated international system to protect its interests and promote its values.
Instead, a new government foreign policy of increased international activism and a UK working with allies to shape a more open international order in which democracies flourish is what is sees as the need of the hour.
This mission also involves increased spending on defence, including investment in cutting-edge technology and an increase in nuclear warheads. While the review says the UK will not give exact figures on the size of its operational stockpile to maintain "deliberate ambiguity" for adversaries, it pledges the UK will maintain the "minimum destructive power needed to guarantee that the UK's nuclear deterrent remains credible".
While it establishes tackling climate change and preserving biodiversity as the UK’s number one international priority in the decade ahead, other key developments cover two new cross-government hubs – a Counter-Terrorism Operations Centre and a White House style Situation Centre based in the Cabinet Office to improve the use of data.
The contours for the next decade of Britain’s global goals have now been firmly drawn and it is clear that India will have a crucial role to play in achieving those.