Amandeep Singh Bhogal was Parliamentary candidate for Upper Bann in the 2015 General election in Northern Ireland and is a former diplomat.
To our west the United States, one of Britain’s key global partners, stands at a crossroads. To our east, so does our relationship with India.
Yesterday Prime Minister Theresa May landed in Delhi on her first overseas bi-lateral trip, carrying the hopes of a Brexiteering Britain readying herself to look beyond the European Union to the Indian Union, building a winning team to lead the world in building a truly free market global economy.
While the hidebound European Union represents the many flashing warning lights on the dashboard, India is the bright xenon headlight lighting up the global economy with unmatched economic growth. Seeing this, China, Japan, Russia and the United States are all lining up to be friends with India at the Prime Minister’s residence at 7 Race Course Road, New Delhi.
Just as Britain is enjoying record employment and robust economic growth, India is marching ahead to be the world’s third largest economy by 2030.
And since Mr Modi became PM in 2014 India has seen a doubling of foreign direct investment to $40bn in 2015, an increase of 130 per cent in broadband users to 140 million, smartphone users jumping to 204.1 million and a whopping £2.2 trillion budget allocated to infrastructure building ports, roads and airports.
Theresa May’s flight to India has been preceded by a 12 per cent increase in individual business trips to India from Britain since June, which proves our small and medium businesses are already making the leap into the wider world. We are a trading nation and our businesses are busy laying the global foundations for Brexit.
So, when the two Prime Ministers jointly inaugurate the UK-India Tech Summit in Delhi, they inaugurate a new 21st-century chapter of our relationship based on innovation, technology and cyber security.
Whereas India has huge talents, from making some of the best software in the world to producing some of the most cost-effective generic drugs, we have the world’s most inventive innovators such as Sir James Dyson, who is in Delhi with the Prime Minister, and the world’s leading universities and research and development.
Therefore, we should join hands to form a truly joint-partnership of equals so when Modi says ‘Make in India’ we say come and ‘Design in Britain’, when he says ‘Skill India’ we say come and ‘Study in Britain’, and when he says ‘Digital India’ we should say let’s ‘Innovate in Britain’.
However, what has dominated the headlines for UK-India is concerns over declining numbers of Indian students in the UK, India not choosing to buy the Typhoon jet fighter, and the slow pace of reform in India opening up the financial, insurance and service sectors to full foreign direct investment.
Seeing that we should soon have full control over immigration, there needs to be urgent reform of our student visa system. Why not welcome students from India in Britain for the length of their course, without recourse to public funds and, unlike at present, without the right to bring over family.
This would mean we take out students from the migration figures and only include them if they are successful in gaining a post-study settlement visa, if they receive a suitable job offer.
If we are to have a truly special relationship with India then we must up our game to match the United States in our cooperation in defence, counter-terrorism and cyber-security. We must no longer look to India as just another defence market but make things together.
It has to be more than just a transfer of technology – we should jointly develop strategies and work to address common geo-strategic challenges. We have done it before with the Gnat and the Jaguar planes and we can do it again.
Leveraging further our common passion for the free market we must also look at how we can each draw on our strengths to help each other in delivering a better deal which works for everyone.
India makes the world’s cheapest generic drugs, which our NHS should be buying to significantly cut costs. At the same time the NHS could be setting up joint commercial ventures helping provide standardised healthcare to India’s 1.3 billion people.
Just as Israel is using its water conservation experience to help India achieve more with its water, we in Britain have some of the world’s most advanced food processing expertise which could help provide greater food security for both us and India.
It is only a matter of time before market forces push India to liberalise the services sector. London leads the world in financial and insurance services and India’s huge 350 million plus middle-class would welcome cheaper, competitive, and more innovative finance and insurance products.
While Brexit deniers may attempt to stall the Prime Minister’s determination to deliver us from the clutches of Brussels, Britain and India must wait for no one as they have smart cities to build, over half a billion young Indians and Britons to educate, and a whole world to trade freely with.
We have a natural affinity and like former Prime Minister David Cameron, Theresa May also profoundly understands and is committed to our special relationship with India and is absolutely right when she says “India is our most important and closest friend”.
Meanwhile Brussels will carry on being stuck in the mud in its cartel-like, outdated, and out-of-steam customs union taking one step forward and a five-year plan backwards. As Liam Fox said on his first overseas trip to India in August as International Trade secretary: “Britain wants to hold India’s hand” and Brexit means we are finally free to do so.
Now is the time to ring the opening bell for a resurgent Indo-British leadership of a genuine free-market global economy and it is our job to jointly make sure the tune of that bell is a profitable one.