British PM cancels India visit after adding Delhi to travel ‘red list’
File photo of Boris Johnson.
In view of the alarming Covid-19 situation in India, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has cancelled his visit next week. He was scheduled to arrive on April 25. He will now hold a ‘virtual’ dialogue with Prime Minister Narendra Modi in the coming days.
In a related development, the UK imposed its strictest travel curbs on India, adding it to its travel "red list", hours after Prime Minister Boris Johnson cancelled an already delayed trip there next week.
This is the second time that the British Prime Minister’s visit was cancelled. He was invited as the chief guest for this year’s Republic Day parade. However, he postponed his visit due to the outbreak of corona in the UK then.
Giving details of the latest postponement, the Indian ministry of external affairs said Johnson will not visit India next week in view of the coronavirus pandemic. The ministry spokesperson Arindam Bagchi said the decision was taken as per mutual agreement by both sides.
“In view of the prevailing Covid situation, it has been decided by mutual agreement that the prime minister of the United Kingdom will not visit India next week,” he said.
Bagchi said the two sides will be holding a virtual meeting in the coming days to launch plans for a transformed India-UK relationship.
“In the light of the current coronavirus situation, Prime Minister Boris Johnson will not be able to travel to India next week,” Downing Street said in a joint statement on behalf of the British and Indian governments.
“Instead, Prime Ministers Modi and Johnson will speak later this month to agree and launch their ambitious plans for the future partnership between the UK and India. They will remain in regular contact beyond this, and look forward to meeting in person later this year,” the statement said.
Pressure had been mounting on Johnson to call off the visit amid growing concerns of a new variant of COVID-19 detected in the country. Over the weekend, UK Opposition Labour Party joined calls for him to conduct the discussions remotely via Zoom and cancel the physical visit, which had already been shortened to focus on a day-long packed schedule on Monday, April 26.
Both sides were to agree on a ‘Roadmap 2030’ for re-energised India-UK relations across trade and investment and climate action, which is now likely to be signed off remotely later this month.
As part of the UK’s post-Brexit Global Britain engagement as a non-member of the European Union (EU), all eyes have been on a proposed Enhanced Trade Partnership (ETP) with India which will pave the way for a full-fledged Free Trade Agreement (FTA) in the future. The ETP was expected to take firm shape during Johnson’s visit this month but it remains to be seen how that progresses given the cancellation.
Modi is invited to the G7 Summit in Cornwall in June, with India among the guest countries. That is now likely to be their next face-to-face meeting, if Modi is able to travel for the summit.
Terming the cancellation as frustrating, Johnson said it was “only sensible” to call off the visit. “Narendra Modi and I have basically come to the conclusion that, very sadly, I won’t be able to go ahead with the trip,” Johnson told reporters, during a visit to Gloucestershire soon after the Downing Street announcement.
“I do think it’s only sensible to postpone, given what’s happened in India, the shape of the pandemic there. Countries around the world including our own have been through this – I think everybody’s got a massive amount of sympathy with India, what they’re going through,” he said.