Labour criticises Tories, promises swift India free trade agreement

Shadow foreign secretary David Lammy said that Tories have “over-promised and under-delivered” on the UK’s relations with India.

Labour criticises Tories, promises swift India free trade agreement

Shadow foreign secretary David Lammy attends a Welsh Labour general election campaign event in Abergavenny, Wales, Britain May 30, 2024. REUTERS/Maja Smiejkowska

Pramod Thomas

LABOUR PARTY has criticised the Tories, led by prime minister Rishi Sunak, for failing to meet their promises on India relations.

Speaking at the India Global Forum (IGF) last week, shadow foreign secretary David Lammy said that if Labour wins the July 4 general election, they are prepared to swiftly negotiate a free trade agreement (FTA).

He stressed that the FTA should serve as a starting point rather than the ultimate goal in building a stronger partnership with his “friend,” external affairs minister S Jaishankar.

India and the UK have completed 13 rounds of FTA negotiations to enhance the estimated £38.1 billion a year trading relationship, with talks currently stalled amid the election cycles in both countries.

“Many Diwalis have come and gone without a trade deal and too many businesses have been left waiting,” said Lammy, referring to the missed Diwali 2022 deadline set by former prime minister Boris Johnson for the FTA.

“My message to finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman and trade minister Piyush Goyal is that Labour is ready to go. Let’s finally get our free trade deal done and move on,” he said, adding he will be in Delhi before the end of July if elected to government on July 4.

Lammy said the Tories have “over-promised and under-delivered” on the UK’s relations with India.

Describing India as a “priority” for the party and an economic, technological and cultural “superpower”, Lammy sought to set the tone for his future tenure in a Labour-led cabinet – hopeful of taking charge as the country’s foreign secretary.

“With Labour, the days of Boris Johnson reciting that old verse from Rudyard Kipling in Asia are over. If I recite a poem in India, it will be Tagore…because with a superpower like India, the areas of cooperation and the areas for learning are limitless,” he said.

From a wider foreign policy perspective, Lammy stressed a “free and open Indo-Pacific” working in partnership with India.

“We stand for a rules-based order and against those who wish to redraw borders by force with a new form of imperialism, like Russian president Putin in Europe; and those in Asia who wish to impose their will on their neighbours denying them free choices,” he said.

“Europe and Asia are not two separate worlds…In this challenging environment, Britain will remain and seek to ramp up the security partnership with India – from military to maritime security, from cyber to critical and emerging technologies, from defence and industrial cooperation to supply chain security.”

With Labour far ahead of the incumbent Tories in all pre-election opinion polls, Lammy also drew parallels with the shared democratic values in both countries as he congratulated prime minister Narendra Modi on his re-election.

“I deeply believe that India’s democratic elections, with almost a billion voters, are the most important statement, the most important validation, not only of the democratic ideal but of democratic practice in today’s world. This is something that binds us together,” Lammy said.

Flagging climate change as one of the key areas of collaboration, the frontline Labour politician said the UK stood in solidarity with India through the extreme temperatures across the country.
“There can be no energy transition without an Indian energy transition. India is the indispensable partner, not only to Britain but the whole developed world,” he noted.

He also hailed the “extraordinary contribution” of British Indians, not only the largest diaspora community in the UK but “without whom it would be hard to even imagine modern Britain”.

Guyanese-heritage Lammy concluded by highlighting his own personal India connect, saying his “great-grandmother was an Indian from Calcutta who set sail as an indentured labourer to the Caribbean”.

“India contributes so much to British prosperity already. Last year, India was our second-largest foreign direct investment contributor…but it could be so, so much more as India is only our twelfth-largest trade partner,” he said.