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The deepening bonds between India and the UK | Analysis

Further cooperation on health is the most pressing priority. The UK is already India’s second biggest research partner, with joint research expected to be worth £400m by next year. This partnership is leading the way

Updated: Jul 19, 2020, 08:10 IST

By Philip Barton,

The ties between the UK and India run deep (Shutterstock)

Preparing for a new role is always exciting, but especially so when the assignment is leading the United Kingdom (UK)’s largest overseas diplomatic network. In normal times, the preceding weeks involve a range of meetings. But these are not normal times.

My appointment was announced in February. By March, I had been diverted to lead the UK government’s long-term Covid-19 response. I saw first-hand the nature of the challenge we all face. But I also saw how connected, and mutually reliant, we are as a global community. I saw how vital the UK’s partnership with India is, whether that was keeping trade routes open for essential medicines and equipment, or Oxford University, AstraZeneca and Serum Institute collaborating on a potential vaccine.

The ties between the UK and India run deep. During my preparations, I found a commitment across government to invest further in this relationship — from the prime minister down. This was on display recently at India Global Week, with the UK’s most senior ministers underscoring the enormous potential of our partnership.

When I presented my credentials to the president, he spoke warmly of close ties. My arrival may have been delayed and unusual, but the task is clear. The crisis has brought our shared priorities into sharp relief, so I know where my immediate focus lies.



Further cooperation on health is the most pressing priority. The UK is already India’s second biggest research partner, with joint research expected to be worth £400m by next year. This partnership is leading the way — from Oxford Nanopore’s work on rapid analysis of virus genomes to the Shakti Sustainable Energy Foundation-backed project on temperature-sensitive distribution mechanisms. The goal: A vaccine developed in the UK, manufactured in India.

At the same time, we all face economic challenges from Covid-19 and share a determination to secure our prosperity. Over the last 10 years, the UK has invested over £22 billion in India helping create more than 422,000 jobs. In turn, India is now the UK’s second largest source of foreign investment. We are committed to deepening our trade partnership, now that the UK has left the European Union, and will discuss this in next week’s ministerial-level virtual Joint Economic and Trade Committee meeting.

We owe it to future generations to build back better and greener. The UK recently announced a green recovery package — including £3bn to create thousands of green jobs and decarbonise buildings. In India, Prime Minister Narendra Modi just inaugurated a mammoth solar power plant in Madhya Pradesh. Co-chairing a meeting of the Coalition for Disaster Resilient Infrastructure was one of my first engagements here. As COP-26 president building our partnership with India on climate change is a priority.

I have a lengthy list of further priorities to pursue, from enhancing our security collaboration in the face of shared threats, to strengthening the living bridge that connects our people. But I have also come with a personal list of things and places to rediscover.

I worked in New Delhi in the 1990s, and returning feels like coming home. India is the same country, but it has also changed dramatically. It is bolder and more engaged on the world stage, the chair of WHO’s executive board and back on the UN Security Council from next January. In 2022, India will celebrate 75 years of Independence and host the G20.

It is the greatest honour and privilege of my diplomatic career to represent the UK in this wonderful country. Continuing to build a modern, forward-looking partnership — through this pandemic and beyond — is a weighty responsibility, but one that I will carry with immense pride.

Sir Philip Barton is the UK’s high commissioner to India
The views expressed are personal

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