On 19 January 2023 the House of Lords is scheduled to debate the following motion:

Baroness Verma (Conservative) to move that this House takes note of the importance of the relationship between the United Kingdom and India and the case for strengthening future collaboration.

The UK and India have a shared history through the British Empire, with India celebrating 75 years of independence on 15 August 2022. India is celebrating with a 75-week countdown that started on 12 March 2021, and which will continue for a year following the anniversary, ending on 15 August 2023. Both the UK and Indian governments have spoken of “the deep and vibrant people-to-people ties between the two countries, fostered by the living bridge of 1.6 million strong Indian diaspora in the UK”. They have said they want to further strengthen this “special bond”.

Data from the 2021 census published by the Office for National Statistics shows that 3.1% of usual residents in England and Wales identified their ethnic group as Indian; this was the second most common response (excluding “White: English, Welsh, Scottish, Northern Irish or British” at 74.4%, which is not included in figure 1).

Ethnic minority groups, 2021, England and Wales
Figure 1. Ethnic minority groups, 2021, England and Wales

Source: Office for National Statistics, ‘Ethnic group, England and Wales: Census 2021’, 29 November 2022

Data from the census in Northern Ireland shows that 0.52% of usual residents in Northern Ireland identified their ethnic group as Indian. Data for Scotland has not yet been published: the census in Scotland took place in 2022 due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

The UK and India currently collaborate across a wide range of different areas, but the countries have stated that they want to establish “a comprehensive” strategic partnership. The move towards achieving this will be guided by a mutually agreed ‘2030 roadmap for India-UK future relations’, which was published on 4 May 2021. In a joint statement following a visit to India by the then UK prime minister, Boris Johnson, in April 2022, both the UK and India “resolved to advance the India-UK comprehensive strategic partnership through [an] annual exchange of visits at the prime minister level”. This included the pursuit of a free trade agreement (FTA) as part of an ‘enhanced trade partnership’.

1. UK government policy on collaboration with India

The UK government’s ‘Integrated review of security, defence, development and foreign policy’ (March 2021) set out a strategic framework for achieving the UK’s national security and international policy objectives up to 2025. This included prioritising the UK’s diplomatic efforts towards the Indo-Pacific: the so-called ‘Indo-Pacific’ tilt. The integrated review described the region as critical for the UK’s economy, security and its “global ambition to support open societies”. Specifically on India, the integrated review stated that the UK wanted to transform cooperation “across the full range of our shared interests”. It described India, the world’s largest democracy, as “an international actor of growing importance”. The integrated review set out the UK’s vision of this enhanced relationship as one encompassing trade, investment, defence and security cooperation and one which tackled issues such as climate change:

Our vision is for re-energised trade and investment, rooted in [science and technology] and supporting levelling up in the UK and India alike; enhanced defence cooperation that brings a more secure Indian Ocean region, building on the existing biannual ministerial defence dialogues; and UK-India leadership to tackle global challenges like climate change, clean energy and global health.

The policy of enhancing trade with India was also reflected in the Conservative Party’s 2019 manifesto which stated a Conservative government would “forge stronger links with the Commonwealth, which boasts some of the world’s most dynamic economies such as India, with which we already share deep historical and cultural connections”.

The UK prime minister, Rishi Sunak, met Indian prime minister, Narendra Modi, at the G20 summit in Indonesia in November 2022. A UK press release said that the two prime ministers “agreed on the enduring importance of the UK-India relationship”. The 2030 roadmap for India-UK future relations which was published in May 2021 (see section 1.1) said the shared history between the UK and India had created “a highly educated, and economically dynamic living bridge, with 1.6 million Britons of Indian origin”. The press release said that the UK and India’s shared values, including a commitment to democracy, were a “huge asset” in international forums such as the G20 and the Commonwealth. India took over the G20 presidency in December 2022. Rishi Sunak said that the UK welcomed the opportunity to work with India on issues such as “ending the war in Ukraine and tackling climate change” under India’s presidency.

The UK’s integrated review was published under Boris Johnson. As prime minister, Rishi Sunak has also emphasised that the Indo-Pacific region remains important for global security and prosperity and that the UK was committed to “building the broadest presence in the Indo-Pacific of any European country”.

1.1 Roadmap for India-UK future relations

One of the key documents setting out the UK’s relationship and future collaboration with India is the ‘2030 roadmap for India-UK future relations’ (4 May 2021). This is a joint framework for future relations between the two countries. The roadmap was adopted by both the UK and Indian governments as part of a “common vision of a new and transformational comprehensive strategic partnership between the UK and India”. The UK government has said that the roadmap comprises “more than 100 lines of activity”. A joint statement was released alongside the roadmap.

The roadmap included the launch of an ‘enhanced trade partnership’ and the negotiation of an FTA between India and the UK (see section 2 of this briefing for further information). The joint statement said that the prime ministers “agreed to continue removing trade barriers on the path to an FTA, and an ambitious target of more than doubling UK-India trade by 2030”.

The roadmap would “guide cooperation” for ten years and cover “all aspects” of relations between the UK and India. It would also be subject to an annual strategic review meeting to monitor its implementation. If necessary, the roadmap could be updated.

The 2030 roadmap is set out over the following five areas:

  • Connecting our countries and people. The roadmap stated that the UK and India’s relationship was already broad due to the countries’ shared history, but that it had the potential to grow further. It said the countries would “upgrade institutional mechanisms” to help them achieve goals in “all areas of cooperation and strengthen avenues for people to people connect[ions] in education, research and innovation, capacity building, employment and culture”.
  • Trade and prosperity. The UK and India would “create shared prosperity and deliver leadership in global economic governance”. An enhanced trade partnership would “unlock the potential for the relationship from our dynamic private sectors”.
  • Defence and security. The UK and India would work together in a strategic partnership to tackle “cyber, space, crime and terrorist threats and develop a free, open and secure Indo-Pacific region”. The two countries’ shared interests would underpin increased cooperation in multilateral fora to “build understanding among diverse partners on international security and […] help set global rules for cyber security and space taking into account their respective interests”.
  • Climate. The roadmap said the UK and India were committed to safeguarding the planet and building a more environmentally sustainable future and achieving the goals of the Paris Agreement. This included mobilising investment and climate finance.
  • Health. The roadmap described the UK and India as global forces for good in health. The two countries would use their “combined research and innovation strength to address the biggest global health challenges, save lives and improve health and well-being”.

Each area is broken down into a range of sub-areas. For example, ‘connecting our countries and people’ includes sections on ‘politics’, ‘migration and mobility’, and ‘education, research and innovation and enterprise’. Climate includes ‘clean energy and transport’ and ‘adaptation and resilience’.

The UK and India currently collaborate across a wide range of different areas. The roadmap refers to a number of different forms of collaboration, including a number of different dialogues, forums and partnerships. This included:

  • Implementation of the migration and mobility partnership “covering movement of students and professionals as well as irregular migration keeping in view the UK’s new skills based immigration policy”. The agreement included a young professionals scheme to allow 3,000 young Indian professionals to come to the UK each year. It would work in a similar way to existing youth mobility schemes, but India would be the first visa-national country the UK will have agreed such a scheme with. The scheme was confirmed in November 2022 and India and the UK exchanged letters formalising the scheme in January 2023, with an implementation date to be announced.
  • Continuation of the biennial ministerial UK-India science and innovation council “to set the agenda for the two governments’ science, research and innovation collaborations, and align with wider-shared priorities and deliver in partnership”. The UK Science and Innovation Network in India states that the council sets priorities for UK engagement with India.
  • Several fora on financial cooperation, including the economic and financial dialogue, the UK-India partnership on financing and policy, the UK-India fintech dialogue and the implementation of a new annual India-UK financial markets dialogue.
  • Development of an India-UK space cooperation framework.
  • Expansion of cooperation under the defence and international security partnership which was agreed in 2015.
  • Strengthening bilateral dialogues and partnerships on climate change. This included the ministerial energy dialogue and the joint working groups on climate, power and renewables.
  • Expanding the “breadth and depth” of the India-UK health partnership “to enhance global health security and pandemic resilience, show leadership on anti-microbial resistance (AMR), promote healthy societies and strengthen both our health systems through increased collaboration on clinical education, health worker mobility and digital health”.
  • Strengthening “mechanisms to facilitate increased transfer/exchange of doctors and nurses on a permanent or short-term basis”.

In answer to a written question on 12 December 2022, the government said that the roadmap continued to “set a positive trajectory for UK-India relations” and that the UK and India were looking at shared issues across a range of areas:

We are working to tackle joint challenges in cyber, space, crime and terrorism while also working together to deliver advanced security capabilities through joint research, co-design, co-development and joint production of defence technology and systems.

1.2 April 2022: Boris Johnson’s visit to India

An update on the 2030 roadmap followed an official visit by Boris Johnson to India on 21 and 22 April 2022, where he held “delegation level” talks with Prime Minister Modi. The UK and India released a joint statement following the visit and resolved to move forward the India-UK comprehensive strategic partnership agreed in 2021.

The joint statement said that both prime ministers welcomed the “intensification” of bilateral engagements since the virtual meeting in May 2021, and that they were satisfied with the progress on implementing the 2030 roadmap. The statement was structured under similar headings to the roadmap: trade and prosperity, defence and security, climate and clean energy, health, connecting our countries and people, and a section on regional, global and multilateral cooperation.

Trade and prosperity

The April 2022 joint statement said that the two prime ministers welcomed the formal launch of negotiations on an FTA in January 2022. A target to conclude the majority of the talks was set for the end of October 2022 (see section 2 of this briefing for further information on the FTA).

Other areas covered under trade and prosperity included:

  • Welcoming progress made in the eleventh economic and financial dialogue and looking forward to “intensifying cooperation in financial services, banking, insurance, fintech, green bonds, sustainable finance and capital market sectors and to promot[ing] collaboration between regulators and stakeholders”.
  • Reaffirming a desire to strengthen India-UK civil nuclear cooperation, including the UK’s “renewed collaboration” with India’s Global Centre for Nuclear Energy Partnership. This was with a view to jointly promoting research and training on nuclear energy studies, radioactive applications, nuclear security and safety.
  • Deepening cooperation at the World Trade Organisation on “shared goals, including restoring confidence and trust in the multilateral system”.

Defence and security

Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Prime Minster Boris Johnson described defence and security cooperation as a “key pillar” of the India-UK comprehensive and strategic partnership.

The joint statement noted cooperation in “key areas of strategic collaboration” which included modern fighter aircraft and jet engine advanced core technology. The UK and India would work bilaterally, and with other key partner countries, to facilitate Indian industry’s access to the highest level of technology.

Other areas in defence and security included a commitment to “deepen cooperation across cyber governance, deterrence and strengthening cyber resilience”, outlined in a joint cyber statement.

Climate and clean energy

On the issue of climate change, the April 2022 joint statement was released following COP26 in Glasgow in November 2021, whereas the roadmap had preceded it. COP26 led to the ‘Glasgow climate pact’. A lot of initial reaction to the Glasgow climate pact focused on a change in wording on coal from a previous draft to the agreed text. Text was changed from phasing “out” coal, to phasing “down” coal. It was reported that this change was agreed following opposition from China and India.

The April 2022 joint statement said that both prime ministers “reaffirmed their personal commitment to accelerate the clean energy transition” and that there was a “need for developed countries to meet their climate finance goals including delivering on the $100bn and doubling adaptation finance by 2025”. The joint statement also referred to global energy price volatility and the importance of energy security “and the clean energy transition”. The prime ministers agreed to strengthen collaboration. This included a joint declaration of intent between India’s National Institute of Wind Energy and the UK’s Offshore Renewable Energy Catapult.


On health, the prime ministers said that they looked forward to convening the ministerial dialogue on health, to agree an India-UK action plan on health and life sciences. This would be with a view to enhancing collaboration in areas such as vaccines, AMR and health worker mobility.

Connecting our countries and people

The prime ministers also welcomed the “India/UK Together” programme. This marked India’s 75‑year anniversary of independence and promoted “the rich cultural ties” between the UK and India; this included funding 75 Indian students to study in the UK for the year of the anniversary.

The joint statement also said that the UK and India would work to update their bilateral air services agreement.

Regional, global and multilateral cooperation

The joint statement also referenced the war in Ukraine, saying that there should be a peaceful resolution to the conflict:

The leaders expressed in strongest terms their concern about the ongoing conflict and humanitarian situation in Ukraine. They unequivocally condemned civilian deaths, and reiterated the need for an immediate cessation of hostilities and a peaceful resolution of the conflict, which was having severe implications across the globe, in particular for developing countries. They emphasised that the contemporary global order has been built on the UN Charter, international law and respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity of states. They reaffirmed their willingness to provide humanitarian aid for the people of Ukraine.

India has abstained on a number of UN General Assembly resolutions relating to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. For example, it was one of 35 countries that abstained in voting on general assembly resolution A/RE/ES-11/1 on 2 March 2022, which amongst its text, condemned “the 24 February 2022 declaration by the Russian Federation of a ‘special military operation’ in Ukraine”. Five countries voted against the resolution and 141 voted for it. India’s then permanent representative to the UN, T S Tirumurti, set out India’s position on the vote in a tweet. He stated that India supported “the international community’s call for an immediate ceasefire” and that India urged “all member states [to] demonstrate their commitment to the principles of the UN charter, to international law and respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity of all states”. In an urgent question about Boris Johnson’s April 2022 visit to India, the then parliamentary under secretary of state for foreign, commonwealth and development affairs, Vicky Ford, was asked about India’s abstention. Ms Ford said that “the UK should not go finger-pointing at our friends and partners every time we decide to do something different from them”. She also referred to both the UK and India condemning civilian deaths in the joint statement issued following the prime minister’s visit:

This is a time when it is really important that democracies stand together and deepen the way they work together to prevent aggression and to strengthen global security. That is why the two prime ministers released a statement immediately after their meeting in which they both unequivocally condemned the civilian deaths that have been happening in Ukraine and reiterated the need for an immediate ending of hostilities.

The joint statement also stated that Boris Johnson had confirmed that the UK supported India’s permanent membership of a reformed UN Security Council.

2. Negotiations on a free trade agreement

The UK government’s integrated review said that trade with India had “more than doubled” between 2007 and 2019, and that the ability of the UK to agree its own trade deals (now that it has left the EU) would allow it to grow its economic relationship with India further. The UK government has argued that the negotiation of an FTA between the UK and India would allow the two countries to deepen their relationship.

The government has noted that India is projected to become the world’s third largest economy by 2050 and “as India’s middle class grows to nearly a quarter of a billion middle class consumers, greater access to this market is expected to benefit UK firms”. The Department for International Trade has published a trade and investment factsheet for India. In the four quarters to the end of Q2 2022, India was the UK’s twelfth largest trading partner. This accounted for 2.0% of the UK’s total trade. For goods, India was the UK’s thirteenth largest trading partner and for services it was the tenth largest. The value of the UK’s trade with India totalled £25.6bn in 2021. The government has estimated that a trade deal could increase UK GDP “by around £3.3bn in 2035, up to around £6.2bn in 2035 (in 2019 prices) depending on the depth of the negotiated outcome”, equivalent to an increase in UK GDP of 0.12% to 0.22% by 2035. The House of Lords International Agreements Committee has welcomed the government’s ambition to negotiate an FTA with India, but it has expressed concern that the negotiations “entail significant challenges and risks the government will need to address or balance”.

In May 2021, the then UK prime minister, Boris Johnson, and the prime minister of India, Narendra Modi, announced an “enhanced trade partnership” as the first stage in negotiating a comprehensive FTA. Between May and August 2021, the government ran a public consultation in preparation for the trade negotiations with India.

The UK government published its strategic approach to an FTA with India in January 2022, and negotiations with India commenced the same month. In a letter to the House of Lords International Agreements Committee in June 2022, the then minister for investment at the Department for International Trade, Lord Grimstone of Boscobel, stated that the government aimed to conclude the “majority of talks by end of October [2022]”. This was not achieved, and the sixth round of talks took place in December 2022, with further talks expected in early 2023.

The UK’s strategic approach stated that India was an “important partner” for the UK and a trade deal with the country provided an opportunity to “deepen economic and strategic ties”. The document stated that a trade agreement could allow UK and Indian businesses to “benefit from lower trade costs, boosting economic activity in both countries’ areas of competitive strength”. It argued that a trade deal with India supported the government’s strategy of “tilting towards the Indo-Pacific and championing free trade”.

The government said that any deal with India “must work for UK consumers, producers, and businesses”. It committed to “upholding our high environmental, labour, food safety and animal welfare standards”. The strategic approach also noted that the “NHS, its services, and the cost of medicines are not on the table” in the negotiations.

The House of Lords International Agreements Committee published its report on the government’s negotiating objectives in July 2022. The committee welcomed the commencement of talks with India, stating that the projected economic benefits were greater than those from the trade agreements with Australia, New Zealand and Japan.

However, the report criticised the negotiating objectives for being “very general, high level” and at times “overly ambitious”. The committee said the objectives provided “no clue as to the government’s negotiating priorities” or, in most cases, its red lines. The report also stated that India has a history of agreeing “thin FTAs”, has historically protectionist policies, and has different regulatory approaches to the UK. The committee said India has a “notoriously difficult” business environment:

Corruption levels are high, business permits are difficult to obtain, tax and customs processes are complex, levels of contract enforcement are low, and IP [intellectual property] protections are limited.

The committee criticised the negotiating objectives for including “only limited information on the challenges of doing business in India and how these may be overcome”. It said that overcoming such barriers would, in many cases, require changes to India’s domestic legislation, which “could be a lengthy process”. In that context, the committee questioned whether it was achievable for a comprehensive trade agreement to be completed by the “ambitious but arbitrary” October 2022 deadline the government had set for itself. The committee said the government “must not accept a poor agreement simply to meet a deadline”.

For further information on the committee’s report see the House of Lords Library’s briefing ‘UK-India trade agreement: Scrutiny of the government’s negotiating objectives’ (17 August 2022). The House of Lords debated the committee’s report on 6 September 2022.

The government responded to the committee’s report on 18 October 2022. In the response, the secretary of state for international trade, Kemi Badenoch, said she agreed with the committee that there were “considerable barriers to striking a comprehensive FTA with India because it has been historically protectionist”. She indicated that this was a challenge other G7 countries faced in trade negotiations with India. Ms Badenoch also said that she agreed that any provisions in an FTA that required changes to domestic legislation or “that touch on domestic sensitivities” could lead to delays or block a potential deal. She said this was the case for both the UK and India. The secretary of state also said that the desire to conclude an agreement by Diwali 2022 had been a way to move talks forward:

The aspiration to conclude the majority of talks by the end of October 2022 was agreed as a means to drive progress and ensure that both sides take the necessary decisions to reach an agreement. Only once talks have concluded can the government take a decision on signing the deal, and this government has been clear that it will not sign a deal unless it is in the UK’s interest.

The sixth round of negotiations between the UK and India took place in December 2022. On 9 January 2023, Kemi Badenoch made a written statement providing an update on the negotiations. The UK and India discussed 11 policy areas over 28 separate sessions, including detailed draft treaty text. She said that she and her Indian counterpart welcomed the progress made so far. The secretary of state said that both the UK and India were seeking to achieve a “balanced deal” which would strengthen the economic links between the two countries “and bring real benefits to UK businesses, families and consumers”. The seventh round of negotiations is due to take place early this year.

3. Commentary

Previous UK governments have attempted to develop a closer relationship with India but have faced challenges in doing so. Commentators have suggested that recent changes in government policy may make closer relations easier to achieve, for example the UK changing its foreign policy and trade focus to the Indo-Pacific region.

In an article about enhancing the UK’s collaboration with India under Boris Johnson, the Guardian reported on a previous attempt by the UK government to move closer to India. In 2014, the then chancellor of the exchequer, George Osbourne, then foreign secretary, William Hague, and the then ‘India diaspora champion’, Priti Patel, visited India to meet the newly elected prime minster of India, Narendra Modi. The newspaper reported that some concern had been expressed about the visit:

There was a pushback in the Whitehall system due to Modi’s record of stirring up inter-community violence in Gujarat – a Republican president in 2005 even banned him from travelling to the US – but the pair decided that the Anglo-Indian relationship was finally ready to shed the layers of imperial legacy. “If we are not going to engage with India, who are we going to engage with?” Osborne asked.

The Guardian wrote that the UK’s relationship with India didn’t develop as hoped at the time and the newspaper quoted Mr Osborne expressing concern that the UK and India viewed their relationship differently:

There is a whole string of British governments who think there is a special relationship with India. My experience is that the Indians do not have that view of Britain.

Writing in January 2021, Walter Ladwig, associate fellow at the Royal United Services Institute argued that recent changes in British foreign policy had “altered Indian assessments” of India’s relationship with the UK. He argued that India had been concerned about a “perceived softness on Pakistan-sponsored terrorism and London’s concerted effort to make China the anchor of post-Brexit economic policy”. Dr Ladwig said this suggested that the UK did not line up with India’s own strategic priorities. He said that India had therefore prioritised partners “like Russia and France or their expanding strategic ties with the US” over the UK because of this, alongside a belief that the UK was “peripheral to geopolitical developments in the Indo-Pacific”. However, Dr Ladwig argued that developments including moves under Boris Johnson’s government to “reduce economic exposure to China” and to prevent Chinese involvement in the UK’s critical infrastructure, along with the UK supporting a UN motion “to designate the leader of the Pakistan-based Kashmiri extremist group Jaish-e-Mohammed as a ‘global terrorist’”, had changed this.

However, a number of possible challenges have been cited to the UK and India deepening their relationship. Writing in July 2021, Tim Willasey-Wilsey, visiting professor of war studies at King’s College London and a former British diplomat, has said that this included “Britain’s close relations with Pakistan; India’s innate protectionism, the complexities of diaspora politics, differing views on terrorism and Kashmir, Modi’s attitude towards minorities, and the ever-present colonial legacy”. On China, Professor Willasey-Wilsey said that both the UK and India had to make decisions on balancing economic considerations with political engagement:

Although Britain has become increasingly critical of China since the days of the Cameron government’s ‘golden era’ British Prime Minister Boris Johnson recognises the importance of retaining sound commercial connections with Beijing with carefully managed diplomatic and political engagement. In that sense London’s interests regarding China are closely aligned to those of New Delhi.

India’s human rights record has also been the subject of debate in respect to the UK’s negotiations on an FTA. The House of Lords debated human rights in India on 17 November 2022 (the Library produced a briefing to support the debate: ‘Human rights in India’, 14 November 2022). Expressing concern about human rights, particularly in Kashmir, Lord Hussain (Liberal Democrat), who moved the debate, asked whether the government could give assurances that “our future free trade deal with India will be linked with human rights”. Responding for the government Lord Ahmad, minister of state at the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, said that the UK’s commitments on human rights remained central in its trading relationships:

The government’s international obligations and commitments, including on human rights, will remain paramount when we make decisions on all trading relations […] While trade discussions continue, I assure noble Lords that as we discuss the importance of strengthening our road map, whether on trade, investment, technological co-operation or improving lives and livelihoods in India and the UK, the issue of lives and livelihoods is intrinsically tied to the whole concept of human rights.

The appointment of Rishi Sunak as prime minister has also been cited by some commentators as a positive development in the UK’s negotiations with India but one which may be limited in practical effect. The Independent newspaper has quoted Navdeep Suri, a former Indian diplomat, as saying Mr Sunak was “familiar with India and […] has a connection with India”, which meant Mr Sunak did not have “a steep learning curve with regards to India”. However, Mr Suri said that he thought national interest was more important:

But beyond that, I firmly believe that foreign policy is based on the consideration of national interest and I don’t think a [single] person explicitly has that much of a role in these decisions.

An article by CNN has stated that the relationship between the UK and India was complicated “given the history of inequality and exploitation during the colonial era”. It quoted a tweet by British author and journalist Sathnam Sanghera, who said “some people are still perplexed about why Rishi Sunak’s race matters. It matters because of the imperial context”.

4. Read more

Cover image by Naveed Ahmed on Unsplash.