The United Kingdom and India have agreed to step up defence and business cooperation, with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson indicating a bilateral free-trade deal could be wrapped up by October this year.
On his first visit to the Indian capital since taking office in 2019, Johnson held talks with his Indian counterpart, Narendra Modi, on ways to boost security ties between London and New Delhi, which buys more than half of its military hardware from Russia.
“We had wonderful talks that have strengthened our relationship in every way,” Johnson told a joint news briefing with Modi on Friday, at the end of his two-day trip.
“We have agreed a new and expanded defence and security partnership, a decades-long commitment that will not only forge tighter bonds between us, but support your goal of ‘Make in India’,” he added, referring to the Indian premier’s domestic manufacturing push.
Modi meanwhile hailed Johnson’s visit – which came as India marks its 75th year of independence – as “historic”.
“We discussed several regional and international developments and stressed a free, open, inclusive and rule-based order in the Indo-Pacific,” he said.
While exact details of the security partnership between the two sides were not immediately available, Johnson said both countries had agreed to work together in defence procurement “to meet threats across land, sea and air, space and cyber, including partnering on new fighter jet technology, maritime technologies to detect and respond to threats in the oceans”.
The UK’s efforts to bolster security ties follow an attempt last month by the United States to move India away from Russia with its own offer of more defence and energy sales after President Joe Biden called New Delhi “somewhat shaky” in acting against Moscow over its offensive in Ukraine.
Last month, India abstained from a United Nations vote condemning the invasion and has not imposed sanctions on Russia, taking a stance that sparked off a recent flurry of diplomatic activity, including a visit by Russia’s foreign minister.
Modi said that he had discussed the situation in Ukraine with Johnson, with both sides calling for an immediate ceasefire and underscoring the importance of diplomacy to end the conflict.
In 2019, the UK’s trade with India was worth 23 billion pounds ($30bn), data shows, and with the world’s second largest population of nearly 1.4 billion, the south Asian giant offers a vast pool of possible customers.