Theresa May went to India, and all I got was a lousy T-shirt…

I am one of those people who have often wondered why British governments pay relatively little attention to India. After all, it’s a big country, with an emerging middle class who want to travel, buy luxury goods and send their children to good universities overseas. Why wouldn’t we want to build stronger links with a Commonwealth country that is likely to be one of the world’s largest economies before too long? And yet, the attention of our politicians and diplomats often seems biased towards China.

Frankly though, after Theresa May’s trip to New Delhi and Bengaluru, I almost wish that she hadn’t bothered. Yes, I acknowledge that she has a number of problems in attempting to build a stronger relationship with India – the fact that she is trying to implement a Brexit decision on the basis that migration was a key factor, whilst some Leave campaigners were claiming that Brexit would mean easier access for Indians (and others) wanting to visit family here, is a contradiction almost impossible to square. But she seems determined to reinforce the fears that many Indians have about Britain and its attitude towards them.

Continued downward pressure on the number of Indians allowed into Britain to study has led to a surge of young people travelling to the United States, Canada and Australia instead, denying our universities valuable revenue, and all because an unknown number overstay their visas. A concession allowing very wealthy Indians into the “GREAT Club”, a VIP visa service aimed at those likely to be able to invest significant sums of money, is merely a pinprick in the numbers of those wanting to come to Britain, either on holiday or to visit family. There has been no movement on making it easier to get a British visa generally, and it is fearsomely difficult to get one at present.

Narendra Modi, the Indian Prime Minister, has made it clear that greater freedom of movement for Indians is a key part of any trade deal post-Brexit, and until Theresa ‘gets it’, there isn’t likely to be a deal. Indian politicians won’t easily forget that she has been one of the prime obstacles to a trade deal between the European Union and India, either.

Some of the supposedly free-trade, pro-Commonwealth Conservative MP’s need to be challenging their leader to deliver upon some of the promises made by the Leave campaign. Daniel Hannan, who called for a level playing field for non-EU nationals, might like to campaign for just that. After all, he did try to persuade Asian voters that Brexit would lead to enhanced opportunities to come to Britain.

Or, more likely, it’s just another broken promise, never likely to be redeemed.

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This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • Richard Underhill 9th Nov '16 - 7:42pm

    This primarily a sales trip. A planeload of businessmen with deals agreed that just need the formality of the final signature. Businessmen pray that politicians will not screw up these deals as Mrs Thatcher famously did by announcing US investment of billions of pounds into North Sea oil. She repeated the word “billions” several times to ensure that the media folk understood (not mere £millions). The deals did not go through.
    The Liberal International did a trip to India with Jim Wallace MP. We were told that India’s biggest problem was corruption. Some can just pay, but those with limited resources were squeezed mercilessly. India has had some success in abolishing some of the bureaucratic obstacles that make corruption possible, thereby achieving economic growth without needing to agree international trade agreements. Distribution of income appears to be a continuing issue. Political opposition to UK aid going into India was argued partly on India’s economic growth and technical achievements. A recent Panorama programme on BBC TV tried to investigate Rolls-Royce.

  • It’s not really a level playing field, India protect their companies and try to grow them. They may parrot the desire to trade freely but I rather doubt actions will follow words.

  • Mick Taylor 10th Nov '16 - 3:17am

    I can report from India that the government just scrapped the 1000 and 500 rupee notes out of the blue in an attempt to tackle the scourge of black money and tax evasion. Of course they haven’t fully thought it through as tourists like me who neither evade tax nor deal in black money are left holding a substantial number of these notes and now face a real problem in changing them for legal currency. It will be especially bad for tourists who are here for just a short time. I still have a couple of weeks to go, so should be able to sort it out. No doubt May and her entourage will not have this problem. Another example of one rule for them…

  • Richard Underhill 10th Nov '16 - 10:02am

    Mark Valladares: “pharmaceuticals in particular” are an important example of the failure of trade deals under the WTO. First world companies wanted intellectual property rights and third world countries wanted lower selling prices for patented drugs.
    Globalisation is gradually changing these perceptions. These difficulties are partly why Peter Mandelson left his role as EU Trade Commissioner to come back to the UK as a cabinet minister for trade in a Labour government.
    His record as a spin doctor under Kinnock and Blair has affected perceptions of him. An “expert” on the Remain side who was not believed during the EU referendum campaign when he should have been.
    Mick Taylor: The UK press are reporting that the high value notes are now totally and suddenly valueless. Is that accurate? If so it would undermine trust in the Indian government’s currency compared with gold.

  • The 500 and 1000 Rupee notes aren’t worthless, but you can’t spend them; you can only pay them into your bank account, or convert them into new notes of the same value. But you can only convert a small amount to new notes, 2000 or 4000 (about £25 or £50) depending where you are. The rest you have to pay in. The well off have credit cards and mobile payments; the poor don’t. India is still mostly a cash society.
    In order to pay into a bank account, you have to have a load of proof of identity documents, including copies of some (that presumably the bank will keep); apparently it’s making lots of work for the xeroxwallahs (small copy shops), and because the Government has sprung this on people with no notice or changeover period, there are huge queues at banks, with hours of waiting.
    There are stories on social media of workers not being able to buy lunch (or food for their family) because they only have old notes and cannot wait all day at a bank.
    Once money is in the bank, the tax authorities will be able to see how much there is, and tax money not previously declared. (I have no idea how accurately they will assess that.)

  • Yes. The Indian Finance Minister announced without any warning that 500 and 1000 rupee notes would cease to be legal tender at midnight on Tuesday. My wife and I have some 12000 rupees in those notes and we have to queue up at a bank every day to change them into 100 rupee notes, as the maximum we can change per day is 4000 rupees. Luckily we still have about two weeks remaining of our time in India, so we should be OK, but businesses here have been thrown into chaos and no-one will look at a 500 or 1000 rupees note for payment even though they can change them at a bank. Also the limit at ATMs has been reduced to 2000 rupees a day instead of 20000.
    As you can imagine the banks don’t have enough 100 rupee notes and in the bank I was in late morning they were giving out 20 rupee notes. Imagine 200 X 20 rupee notes instead of 4 X 1000 or 8 X 500 notes previously. Where can anyone put such a number of notes?!
    The reasoning behind this action is to drive out black money and recoup tax losses, because for anyone in the cash economy, who has done business in cash and paid no tax now has no obvious alternative but to hand the money in at a bank and if they can’t explain where it has come from will be taxed on it.
    Tourists, who have neither dealt on the black market, nor avoided Indian taxes are subject to the same rules and I suspect many of them are furious.

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