"The largest group of people who overstay are Indian migrants."
The alcohol industry has the most to gain from India as it is the world’s biggest whisky-drinking market and while a deal with the UK is close, comments made by Suella Braverman have put it in doubt.
Bringing down the 150% tariff on whisky imports has been a key ask of New Delhi’s trade negotiators from European trade commissioners and now, post-Brexit UK trade secretaries.
Their efforts have not dented that tariff yet.
India’s domestic distillers like that level of tariff protection but the biggest one, Diageo, also happens to be the company with the most to gain from opening up the market for whisky.
In any trade negotiation, India wants gains in return.
The main request is for easier access to the UK for Indians, with skills they can deploy in IT and far beyond, either with work permits or for intra-company transfers.
In April 2021, Boris Johnson and Narendra Modi set a target deadline of Diwali 2022 for an outline Free Trade Agreement (FTA).
This was an ambitious target but an achievable one.
But two obstacles have put the deal in jeopardy.
India lodged an objection with the World Trade Organisation to Britain’s protection of its steel industry. It has proposed measures in retaliation.
The second is Home Secretary Suella Braverman. She angered Indians when she said that Indians are the biggest offenders when it comes to overstaying their visas.
Ms Braverman told The Spectator:
“I have concerns about having an open borders migration policy with India because I don’t think that’s what people voted for with Brexit.
“The largest group of people who overstay are Indian migrants.
“We even reached an agreement with the Indian government last year to encourage and facilitate better cooperation in this regard. It has not necessarily worked very well.”
In India, the media has expressed its anger that the Home Secretary insulted the country that way.
The Telegraph of India said: “The British want Indian trade. But it doesn’t want Indians.
“As countries that share a love for tea, India and Britain should perhaps read the tea leaves and hold off on a rushed deal that they might regret.
“India certainly might do well to be cautious about striking a pact with a British government that seems unclear about what it wants and that, if polls are to be believed, is largely unpopular.
“There is no point in signing a Diwali deal that might explode.”
In the Deccan Herald, this “lashing out” at Indian immigrants comes “just when the UK and India are in the midst of finalising an FTA [and] has certainly muddied the waters and cast a shadow on the proposed deal that both sides had been hoping to sign by Diwali…
“[Liz] Truss would do well to realise that the proposed deal cannot be a one-way street.
“She will need to satisfactorily address New Delhi’s expectations on migration and mobility for the FTA to come to fruition.
“To do so, the British PM may need to override her Home Secretary’s reservations on immigration.”
Secretary of State for International Trade Kemi Badenoch brushed aside Suella Braverman’s remarks and said:
“That’s not the conversation that I’m having with my [Indian] counterpart.
“We’re very much focused on the content of the deal. The Home Secretary has a job to do, and she is making a comment on a much broader basis – it’s not specifically to do with the FTA.”
Stating that a deal “will happen soon”, Mrs Badenoch added:
“But I don’t want to give a date that is likely to change one way or the other, depending on what happens in the next phase of negotiations”.