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Theresa May’s failed passage to India

Theresa May’s passage to India has highlighted the lack of a plan behind the mission. It’s easy to see the appeal of a trip like this : forging new trade deals with the world’s super powers for a post-Brexit world. But her trip has also thrown up some cold realities.

The government needs to change its mind on this one because we are going to be one million engineers short in the coming years

Sir James Dyson

Not any time soon

Even if we take the PM’s word, that she will will invoke Article 50 before April 2017, there are still more than 870 days until the UK can begin it’s bilateral trade negotiations with India. Until then, any deals done will be subjected to scrutiny from Margrethe Vestager, the EU Competition Commissioner. Ms. Vestager was responsible for the $15 billion fine levied on Apple Inc.

So at a corportate level, businesses like TATA (who refused, politely, to even meet with the PM) will be keen to distance themselves from any perception of  “sweetheart” deals that could ultimately cost them access to the European Union, or dollars.

Not that important

If Mrs May thought she could sweep into the “Jewel in the Crown”, as it was known under British rule and rattle off some trite phrases like “Brexit means Brexit”, she was very mistaken. Indians have moved on. Indian middle-class families aspire to get their kids into overseas universities – there is a cachet in doing so and the rest of the world is keen to attract those international students. The UK currently only receives around 11,000 students per year, compared to 68,000 at the beginning of 2010.

Strict restrictions on visas and overseas students (introduced by Mrs May as Home Secretary) make the decision to choose Britain less likely, particularly the requirement for students to return to India immediately after their studies. Most students are looking for a few years of work experience after graduating – both as a way of recouping costs and to burnish their CV’s. The trend is now to go to Canada or the US, both perceived as more welcoming than the UK. Each student brings around £20,000 to the host economy during their studies.

Not that welcoming

As part of this, the UK will consider further improvements to our visa offer if at the same time we can step up the speed and volume of returns to Indians with no right to remain in the UK.

Theresa May

Perhaps the biggest disappointment from the journey, is that Mrs May has stoked up anti-British sentiment in India by asking for more Indian trade while trying to prioritise immigration controls on Indian. It sounds remarkably similar to her Conservative Party speech earlier this year and it didn’t go down well with her fellow trade mission members either :

The irony is coming on a trade mission with a view of laying the grounds for a trade agreement with India, while at the same time continuing to remain unwelcoming towards India when it comes to immigration.

Lord Bilimoria
President UK India Business Council

Not that surprising

The trip has highlighted that Mrs May continues to view her premiership through the prism of Home Secretary. The “no free trade without free movement” is a theme she is keen to avoid here in Europe, but it seems the same message can be heard from India too.

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