Brexit means Britain can ‘attach’ itself to India’s booming economy, says Rishi Sunak

Brexit means Britain can “attach” itself to India’s booming economy and benefit from its success, Rishi Sunak has said.

Speaking on his first visit to the country as Prime Minister, Mr Sunak said that Britain’s newly won freedom to strike trade deals with countries such as India was one of the reasons he backed leaving the EU.

India’s success as the fastest-growing economy in the world now presents an “exciting opportunity for the UK”.

Mr Sunak also said that he had found it “inspiring” to see India’s focus on training children in maths science and engineering, suggesting that Britain could learn from the country’s example.

The Prime Minister’s remarks came as Britain seeks to close a trade deal with India, amid disagreements on issues such as alcohol tariffs and UK demands for curbs on the production of cheap generic drugs.

On Friday, Mr Sunak insisted that he would not “sacrifice quality for speed” in negotiations on an agreement, after refusing to offer more work and student visas to help secure a deal.

On Saturday, Downing Street said that Mr Sunak and Narendra Modi, the Indian prime minister, agreed at a meeting at the G20 summit in New Delhi to “continue to work at pace” towards an agreement.

The Prime Minister is seeking to close a trade deal with India, amid disagreements on several issues

The Prime Minister is seeking to close a trade deal with India, amid disagreements on several issues – Dan Kitwood/PA

The pair embraced as Mr Sunak said: “It is so nice to be here.” Mr Modi noted that his counterpart, the first British prime minister of Indian descent, had received a “warm welcome” in India.

The Prime Minister said that he cited Britain’s ability to control its own trade policy when he was asked for his reasons for supporting Brexit, during the 2016 campaign to leave the EU.

He said: “I think it is an advantage because it’s countries like India and the East more generally, the Asia Pacific, which is going to disproportionately account for global growth in the coming decades.

“So being able to attach ourselves to that is really important … It’s not a given with this deal, there’s hard work to do. But if it was successful, then that would be another way that we would be attaching ourselves to the growth of the fastest-growing region in the world.”

Mr Sunak added of India: “It’s, I think, almost inevitable that India is going to be one of the most significant countries geopolitically in the coming years and decades.

“To get a sense of that … I was meeting with a bunch of schoolchildren who were doing programmes at the British Council. That’s India’s future – just chatting with those kids and just seeing their confidence, their hunger and quite frankly their aptitude.

“This is the thing about India, it has one of the youngest populations, and also one of the largest populations, and that is going to power its growth for years to come.

“Now, that’s an exciting opportunity for the UK. That’s why it’s important that we deepen our ties, particularly our economic ties, with India. It’s a great thing for the world that India is going to grow like that. But that’s also good for the UK because we can hopefully be a part of that, we can hopefully support India’s growth and development, but also benefit from it and that’s why the trade deal will help us do it.

“That’s, candidly, one of the benefits of Brexit.”

Mr Modi embraced Mr Sunak, the first British prime minister of Indian descent

Mr Modi embraced Mr Sunak, the first British prime minister of Indian descent – Indian Press Information Bureau/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

Mr Sunak identified India’s focus on science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) subjects as one of the reasons for the country’s rapid growth. In Britain, he has previously announced plans for some form of mandatory maths education until the age of 18.

He said: “There’s lots of different reasons for the growth. There’s a billion people here, so that helps, and it’s a very young population.

“But one of the things I was taking away from it, which is why I talk about it a lot, is about the importance of an economy that is based on high quality education and particularly STEM [when you look at] what is driving India’s growth.”

Referring to his visit to meet children enrolled in programmes at the British Council in New Delhi, Mr Sunak added: “This is really inspiring… India is blessed with an incredible amount of talent when it comes to science, maths, engineering. Those skills are only more relevant in the future economy. India has those in abundance. And then, one thing I thought again, and this was inspiring yesterday, there were about 20-odd teachers that were there, all computer science teachers, engineering teachers. Eighteen of them are women.

“So that’s why when I talk about it’s important our kids study more maths. [We are] one of the few countries in the world that lets them stop maths at 16 and not carry on all the way to 18. It’s based on my understanding and of my belief about what drives growth in a modern economy.”

Rishi Sunak

Mr Sunak and his wife, Akshata Murty, attend a G20 dinner in India – Simon Walker/No 10 Downing Street

India’s GDP expanded by almost seven per cent in 2022-23, and is predicted to increase by a further 6.3 per cent in the current financial year.

Analysts have predicted that it will surpass the United States by 2075 to become the world’s second wealthiest nation, behind only China.

The World Bank has said growth is being fuelled by “robust domestic demand” and “buoyant private consumption” among higher earners.

It added that there had also been “strong investment activity bolstered by the government’s push for investment in infrastructure”.

India has embarked on a series of ambitious building projects, including a new airport in Mumbai that will accommodate 90 million passengers per year.

The country is also investing heavily in research and development and recently celebrated carrying out a successful landing on the moon.

It is also one of the key emerging centres for new AI technology, which Mr Sunak has said will play a key role in UK growth.

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