Rishi Sunak’s government is ready to discuss corporate visas in negotiations with India over a post-Brexit trade deal, Downing Street has suggested.
The PM said it was “special” to be visiting India again – a country which he revealed refers to him as its “son-in-law” as he arrived in New Delhi for the weekend’s G20 summit.
Mr Sunak and his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi are likely to talk about a free trade agreement (FTA) – though No 10 is downplaying the prospect of a deal anytime soon.
The PM is refusing to offer more work and student visas in order to hasten the post-Brexit deal – but the issue of corporate visas is on the table, No 10 indicated.
An official spokesman for the PM insisted that any deal with India would focus on “trade and business”, adding: “There are no plans to change our immigration policy to achieve an FTA or this FTA.”
But he added: “The only aspect of the movement of people covered by a [free trade agreement] is business mobility – that’s the temporary movement of business people for specific purposes.”
Foreign secretary James Cleverly appeared to play down concerns that a possible free trade deal could involve the UK handing out more student visas.
“We’ve got to understand that trade deals are trade deals, not travel deals,” he told GB News. “We have already got a very good relationship with India when it comes to students. Student numbers from India are up, but also visa applications in our existing visa system is up.”
Mr Cleverly also rejected criticism of the slow progress towards a UK-India trade deal. Pressed on Sky News about whether an agreement could be expected before the next general election, he said the government did not want to “rush it through”.
Mr Sunak even suggested a trade deal with India might not happen – telling reporters travelling with him on the plane that “it’s not a given”.
He added: “These things are a lot of work and a lot of time. That’s why I’ve never put artificial deadlines on these trade deals, I’ve always said we shouldn’t sacrifice quality for speed.”
Mr Sunak is the first UK PM of Indian descent and was a regular visitor to the country before being promoted to chancellor by Boris Johnson. The MP for Richmond was born in Hampshire, to Indian migrant parents – a pharmacist mother and a GP father.
The 43-year-old is also married to Akshata Murty, the daughter of NR Narayana Murty, the founder of Indian IT giant Infosys and a major figure in the country.
“It is obviously special,” he told reporters on his trip to India. “I saw somewhere that I was referred to as India’s son-in-law, which I hope was meant affectionately … I’m excited to be back. It is nice to have Akshata with me as well.”
While at the Indian summit, Mr Sunak has vowed to “call out” Russia about its invasion of Ukraine – despite India keeping ties open with Moscow since the conflict started in February last year.
The PM criticised Russian president Vladimir Putin for refusing to attend the G20. Moscow has sent foreign minister Sergei Lavrov to New Delhi in his absence.
Mr Sunak said the Russian leader was steering clear of confrontation because he “doesn’t want to be held accountable”, adding that his absence “demonstrates his isolation in the global community”.
Chinese president Xi Jinping is another of the 20 leaders who chose not to fly out to India, with premier Li Qiang representing Beijing at the summit. Mr Sunak would not commit to meeting with Mr Li while in New Delhi, saying only that he was “expecting to see a range of people”.
No 10 also announced London will host a global food security summit in November, in response to Mr Putin opting not to renew the grain deal with Ukraine, which allowed cargo ships to transport grain out of the war-torn country’s Black Sea ports without fear of attack.
The government has also announced British military and security services will monitor the Black Sea in a bid to deter Russia from striking cargo ships that are transporting grain from Ukraine to developing countries.