Boris Johnson has said his long-awaited visit to India this week will focus on “the things that really matter” to people in both countries, primarily jobs and growth.
Although Tory MPs talked about Johnson’s role as head of the pro-Ukrainian international coalition, a prior government briefing on the visit did not mention the war – which did not lead India to loosen its close ties with Russia.
India abstained last month in the United Nations vote condemning the Russian invasion, and the two countries continue to trade with each other.
Johnson said on Sunday: “As we face threats to our peace and prosperity from autocratic states, it is vital that democracies and friends stick together.
“India, as a major economic power and the world’s largest democracy, is a valued strategic partner of the UK in these uncertain times.
“My visit to India will bring things that really matter to the people of our two nations – from job creation and economic growth to energy security and defence.”
Johnson was originally due to visit India in January last year, but that trip was canceled as the second wave of the coronavirus swept through the UK, powered by the Alpha variant.
No 10 attempted to reschedule the visit to last April but that flight too was cancelled, at relatively short notice, after India was hit with its own Covid emergency, triggered by the Delta variant.
Johnson was reluctant to postpone, and there were allegations that the government delayed putting India on its travel red list longer than it should have because Johnson did not want to jeopardize the visit.
His visit this week will begin in Gujarat on Thursday. No 10 said it would be the first time a British Prime Minister has visited the state, which is the ancestral home of around half of the UK’s Anglo-Indian population.
From there, Johnson will travel to New Delhi for talks on Friday with his Indian counterpart, Narendra Modi. Their meeting will focus on the UK-India Free Trade Agreement being negotiated, which they say could boost trade between the two countries by £28billion by 2035, as well than on the defense partnership.
The UK’s Integrated Defense and Security Review, published last year, identified ties with India as a priority relationship, as part of the UK’s tilt towards Indo -Peaceful.
Johnson is also expected to announce new investment deals, as well as collaborations spanning science, health and technology.