The United Kingdom has a new Prime minister after Theresa May of the Conservative Party stepped down. The Conservative Party has voted for a new leader and Prime Minister, Boris Johnson. As Theresa May struggled for more than two years to deliver on the Brexit referendum and failed, Boris Johnson, a stern supporter of the ‘Leave’ campaign is expected to deliver on Brexit in its more radical spirit compared to the deals that May proposed to sign with the European Union before leaving. The new British Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, who has formally been a mayor of London, has a rather interesting and quirky personality and a perplexing connection with India.
To begin with, Boris Johnson or ‘Britain’s Trump’ has termed himself as ‘India’s son-in-law’ for his estranged wife Marina Wheeler, is half Indian. Her Sikh mother, Dip Singh was formerly married to the late Indian writer, Khushwant Singh’s younger brother. Dip’s sister was also married to Khushwant Singh’s older brother. In his 25 years of marriage with Marina Wheeler, Boris Johnson visited India several times and the new British Prime Minister is even known to have been attacked by a rogue elephant in a temple in Kerala.
The British Prime Minister is also a fan of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and hopes to build on personal ties with him in order to improve relations between the two countries. At the India Today conclave in March, 2019, Boris Johnson said that PM Narendra Modi “is a firecracker” and that he had formed a very positive impression of him. “He came to meet me when I was London’s Mayor…then he went and had a rally in Wembly. And I knew then that we are dealing with an absolute political phenomenon because he got a huge number of people to support him,” said Boris Johnson.
Benign goof-ups have been sort of thing in Boris Johnson’s political career. At a Sikh event in a Gurudwara in Bristol, excitedly reiterating the importance of a free trade deal with India, Boris Johnson, in a saffron turban, brought up whiskey unbeknownst to him that alcohol is forbidden in the Sikh faith. “Whenever we go to India, to Mumbai or to Delhi, we have to bring ‘clinkie’ in our baggage,” he said, adding, “We have to bring Johnnie Walker, we have to bring whiskey because as you may know there is duty of 150 per cent in India on imports of Scotch whiskey, so we have to bring it in duty free for our relatives. But imagine what we could do if there was a free trade deal with India – which there will be.” After this Boris Johnson was called out by a woman devotee and told that alcohol is forbidden in the Sikh faith.
Boris Johnson has been eyeing a free trade deal with India. He recently wrote a letter to the Indian diaspora, “When I was with Prime Minister Modi, I stressed that the UK and India are two modern democracies who should work closely together to promote trade and prosperity, improve global security and tackle the challenges our countries face.”
“The sooner we leave the EU and take back control of our trade policy, the sooner we can strike a new trade deal with India that will deliver new jobs, growth and prosperity for both our countries. Securing this new and improved trading relationship with our friends in India will be a priority for me,” British PM Boris Johnson had said in the letter and added that, India should be one of Britain’s most important partners on the global stage as the country shares many values with India including the rule of law, democracy and dynamic entrepreneurial spirit.
The United Kingdom has a rather static trade relationship with India and as Brexit materializes, the UK has been looking to enhance trade with other major economies of the world including India. However, all decisions are being kept on hold due to the uncertainty around the nature of the separation with the EU. A ‘no deal’ Brexit wherein the UK signs no special deal with the EU before leaving, would place India in a more beneficial position. With the deadline to leave the EU extended to October 31, 2019, Britain under Boris Johnson is expected to go the no-deal way as Boris has been adamant on no-deal Brexit and the new British PM has recently said, “…the way to get our friends and partners to understand how serious we are is finally, I’m afraid, to abandon the defeatism and negativity that has enfolded us in a great cloud for so long and to prepare confidently and seriously for… a no-deal outcome.”