British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak spoke to Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Thursday and agreed to expedite progress to resolve "outstanding issues" in the India-UK free trade agreement (FTA) negotiations.
The phone call came against the backdrop of a media report earlier this week that claimed that India had halted the FTA negotiations with the UK until it sees tougher action against pro-Khalistan groups behind the attack on the Indian High Commission in London last month.
The reports had been swiftly denied on both sides.
In a readout of the call between the two leaders, Downing Street said that Sunak reiterated his condemnation of the “unacceptable” violence outside the Indian High Commission in London last month and updated Modi on the steps being taken to ensure the security of Indian diplomatic staff.
The Indian flag at the High Commission in London was pulled down during a protest by pro-Khalistani elements last month.
Prime Minister Modi raised the issue of the security of Indian diplomatic establishments in the UK during the telephonic conversation with his British counterpart Sunak and called for strong action against anti-India elements, a statement said in New Delhi.
According to it, Modi also sought progress on the return of economic offenders wanted in India. India is pursuing the extradition of beleaguered businessman Vijay Mallya and fugitive diamond merchant Nirav Modi from the UK.
Mallya, who fled to the UK in 2016, is wanted in India over a default of ₹9,000 crore that was loaned to Kingfisher Airlines by several banks. Nirav Modi is facing charges in the estimated $2 billion Punjab National Bank loan scam case.
According to the Downing Street spokesman, the two leaders agreed to follow up their discussions at the G7 meeting in Japan next month and the G20 Summit being hosted by India later in the year.
“The leaders reflected on the close friendship between the two countries, and agreed great progress was being made on the 2030 UK-India Roadmap," a Downing Street spokesperson said.
"Discussing ongoing negotiations on a UK-India Free Trade Agreement, the leaders reflected on the huge opportunities a deal would offer to Indian and British businesses and consumers. Both agreed to direct their teams to expedite progress to resolve outstanding issues and ensure a world-leading deal that would see both economies thrive,” the spokesperson said.
In New Delhi, MEA spokesperson Arindam Bagchi said on Thursday that the next round of talks between India and the UK on the proposed free trade agreement will take place later this month. Bagchi said the talks will take place around the period from April 24 to 28.
With reference to an attack by pro-Khalistan separatists at the Indian High Commission in London on March 19, the Downing Street spokesperson said that the British Prime Minister “reiterated his condemnation of the unacceptable violence outside the Indian High Commission in London”.
“He stressed that extremism had no place in the UK and updated on the steps being taken to ensure the security of Indian High Commission staff,” the Downing Street spokesperson said.
“The leaders shared their best wishes to those celebrating Vaisakhi in the UK and India tomorrow. Both looked forward to seeing each other at the G7 in Japan next month, as well as at the G20 in India later this year,” the spokesperson added.
“Both the UK and India are committed to delivering an ambitious and mutually beneficial FTA and concluded the latest round of trade talks last month,” said a UK Department for Business and Trade spokesperson.
According to official UK government statistics, the India-UK bilateral trading relationship was worth GBP 34 billion in 2022 — growing by GBP 10 billion in one year. These statistics are expected to be dramatically enhanced with a successful FTA.