Boris Johnson rules out relaxation of visa rules as part of any trade deal with India

Fri 7 Jan 2022
Posted by: Noelle McElhatton
Trade News

Prime minister Boris Johnson has ruled out relaxing immigration rules to tempt India to sign a trade deal, after the proposed move was likened to a “ransom” by a Conservative MP.

During a Prime Minister’s Questions session this week, Tory MP Edward Leigh asked Johnson if working-class voters for Brexit wanted to replace immigration from Europe with immigration from the rest of the world.

“Whilst a free trade deal is valuable in itself, we should not be held to ransom,” Leigh said.

Johnson replied: “We don’t do free trade deals on that basis.”

Long road to trade deal

Observers believe a free trade deal with India, with its history of protectionist policies, is unlikely.

However in February 2021, the UK government released a joint statement with India  stating that the two countries’ trade ministers had “committed themselves to make concrete progress on the trade and investment front to deliver quick gains for both countries, including joint timelines for further advances”. 

India’s red line

The Independent reports that Indian PM Narendra Modi is believed to have made easier immigration to the UK a priority for closer trade ties.

Trade minister Anne-Marie Trevelyan and the PM are expected to travel to India this month and open talks with Delhi on easier and cheaper visas, reports the Times of India.

According to the Times, Trevelyan has backing for the visa offer by foreign secretary Liz Truss, pitting them against home secretary Priti Patel who favours tighter immigration control.

US state deals

Meanwhile, trade minister Penny Mordaunt has heralded a positive meeting on trade with secretary Jason Hafemeister of the United States Department for Agriculture, reports the Express.

Mordaunt also tweeted that she would be going back to the US soon to follow up on state level deals.

In the absence of a trade deal with the US, which US president Joe Biden does not see as a priority, the UK is looking to do achieve deals at a regional level, as previously covered in the Daily Update.

Labour’s positive trade stance

A Labour government would push for a US trade deal and pursue trade deals around the world, the shadow trade secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds tells Politico.

“The US trade deal is something that has been promised to the British people and the government should deliver it,” he said.

Labour would also follow Biden’s approach of “worker-centred trade”, giving trade unions a stronger voice in trade discussions he added.