After UK Minister’s visa barb, India says both sides keen on FTA

A DAY after Britain’s Home Secretary Suella Braverman cast doubts over the proposed Free Trade Agreement with India, while linking the issue to migration and saying that Indians were the “largest group of people who overstay” visas in the UK, New Delhi said both sides are keen to wrap up the FTA “at the earliest”.

“There is interest on both sides to conclude the FTA at the earliest. I understand that intensive discussions are underway towards this and continuing,” Arindam Bagchi, Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) spokesperson, said Friday. Asked about a deadline, Bagchi said, “I think Diwali was set as a goal but that’s a goal.”

The MEA spokesperson, however, refused to respond specifically to Braverman’s comments. “All negotiations are part of give and take…it needs to be a win-win for both sides…I wouldn’t like to get into what people say perhaps for domestic perspectives,” Bagchi said.

In an interview to British weekly magazine “The Spectator” on Thursday, the 42-year-old Indian-origin minister, Braverman, expressed concerns on what she termed “an open borders migration policy with India”. She also indicated that she would not offer Cabinet backing to a trade deal that offers India greater visa concessions.

“I have concerns about having an open borders migration policy with India because I don’t think that’s what people voted for with Brexit,” Braverman told the magazine. “We even reached an agreement with the Indian government last year to encourage and facilitate better cooperation in this regard. It has not necessarily worked very well,” she said.

Braverman was referring to the Migration and Mobility Partnership (MMP) that was signed by her predecessor in the Home Office, Priti Patel, and External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar in May last year.

In Delhi Friday, the MEA spokesperson said he did not have data on overstayers. “I don’t have data on overstayers or otherwise, I am not even sure I’ll be able to comment on that… whenever there is an Indian citizen abroad, we strongly encourage legal immigration and if they need to come back they will come back,” Bagchi said.

“Migration mobility is an important element and you know there was an understanding in this regard which we would expect, certainly, that both sides would honour it and we certainly are taking action on our elements and we expect the UK side to also show… demonstrable actions on that,” the MEA spokesperson said.

The Indian High Commision in London had on Thursday issued a statement on the Home Secretary’s comments, especially on the MMP.

“As part of our wider discussions under Migration and Mobility, the Government…is committed to working with the government of the UK to facilitate the return of Indian citizens who have overstayed their visa period here in the UK,” the statement said.

“As per the data shared with the Home Office, as of date, action has been initiated on all of the cases referred to the High Commission. Further, the UK has also undertaken to fulfil certain commitments as part of the Migration and Mobility Protocol, on which we await demonstrable progress,” it said.

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