UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson has cancelled his trip to India due to the current Covid-19 situation in the country, Downing Street officials said on Monday.
UK and India will hold a virtual summit to make up for the cancelled visit. The Ministry of External Affairs also issued a statement notifying the same.
"In view of the prevailing Covid situation, it has been decided by mutual agreement that the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom will not visit India next week. The two sides will be holding a virtual meeting in the coming days to launch plans for a transformed India-U.K. relationship. Both leaders attach the highest importance to taking the India-U.K. partnership to its fullest potential and propose to remain in close touch in this regard and look forward to an in-person meeting later in the year,” the MEA statement noted.
Johnson was expected to visit India on April 26. His visit was expected to focus on bilateral trade ties including the finalisation of UK-India Enhanced Trade Partnership.
Johnson will instead speak to Prime Minister Narendra Modi later this month to launch their plans for the future UK-India partnership, with their physical meeting expected later in the year.
"In the light of the current coronavirus situation, Prime Minister Boris Johnson will not be able to travel to India next week,” Downing Street said in a joint statement on behalf of the British and Indian governments.
"Instead, Prime Ministers Modi and Johnson will speak later this month to agree and launch their ambitious plans for the future partnership between the UK and India. They will remain in regular contact beyond this, and look forward to meeting in person later this year," the statement said.
Pressure had been mounting on Johnson to call off the visit amid growing concerns of a new variant of Covid-19 detected in the country. Over the weekend, UK Opposition Labour Party joined calls for him to conduct the discussions remotely via Zoom and cancel the physical visit.
Both sides were to agree on a ‘Roadmap 2030’ for re-energised India-UK relations across trade and investment and climate action, which is now likely to be signed off remotely later this month.
The visit, previously postponed from a Republic Day tour in January, was to be the first major bilateral visit for Johnson outside Europe since the UK general election in December 2019 and the conclusion of the Brexit transition period at the end of December 2020.
"The visit of PM Johnson is expected to positively transform the partnership across the wide-spectrum of issues and areas relating to Defence and Security, the Indo-Pacific and Western Indian Ocean Region (WIOR), Trade and Investments, Health care, Climate Change and people-to-people connect,” the High Commission of India in London said last week.
"India and UK are set to agree on a ‘Roadmap 2030’ for future relations. The 2030 vision is for revitalised and dynamic connect between people; re-energised trade, investment and technological collaboration; enhanced defence and security cooperation and closer engagement on regional issues – Including the Indian Ocean Region and the Indo-Pacific. The India-UK Partnership in Climate Action, clean energy and health care is geared for mutual benefit and a better world,” it added.
As part of the UK’s post-Brexit Global Britain engagement as a non-member of the European Union (EU), all eyes have been on a proposed Enhanced Trade Partnership (ETP) with India which will pave the way for a full-fledged Free Trade Agreement (FTA) in the future. The ETP was expected to take firm shape during Johnson’s visit this month but it remains to be seen how that progresses given the cancellation.
Prime Minister Modi is invited to the G7 Summit in Cornwall in June, with India among the guest countries. That is now likely to be their next face to face meeting, if Modi is able to travel for the summit.
(With PTI inputs)
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