While British prime minister Theresa May was pleased with her visit to India and its outcome, critics believe that it did not bear many fruits. May had said that the 33-strong delegation had sealed deals worth £1bn, and laid the groundwork for over 1,300 jobs in her country. While many called the visit ‘pointless’, there were many in Britain who said that they were ashamed as even Delhi’s smog could not hide the hard truth that May’s first visit outside Europe in a bid to revive old friendships could not prosper. May had told BBC, “It’s a tight professional engagement, while we are also looking at India’s strengths and demanding our due place in the trade deal…Hope there will be necessary course correction during formal talks on a trade deal after Britain leaves the EU.”
One of the key issues which dominated the talks were on the visa issue. Sir Keith Burnett, the vice-chancellor of the University of Sheffield, had joined the UK prime minister on her recent trade visit to India. In his blog in Times Higher Education, he wrote,”When I talk to Indians, the hurt is plain. I feel truly ashamed, and don’t want that hurt to be ignored or unheeded. In fact, I’m sure that we need a full-scale response to the danger it heralds. I have tried to stay positive for the past four years as I’ve seen things rot. I have groaned as changes in visa regulations pushed more and more potential students away. The government has assured us that it was not deliberately trying to reduce the numbers. Well, that may be the truth, but the results are in. A 50 per cent drop! Other countries are rubbing their hands with glee at our stupidity. Ms May is announcing that her trade mission to Europe has seen £1 billion in deals announced for the UK. But remember that international students are worth £14 billion to the UK economy every year. That’s equivalent to more than one major trade mission a month.
Lord Bilimoria, the Indian-born businessman, told BBC, “The reality is Theresa May – when she was home secretary – did deliver very, very negative messages towards immigration. We continue to include international students within our net migration figures. The perception that sends out to the rest of the world, including India, is Britain wants to reduce the number of international students.”
According to The Economist, in the decade after independence, India’s almost half the imports and 80 percent of foreign investment came from Britain. But now, Britain is at the 13th spot among India’s trading partners, which accounts for only 2 percent of its trade. When May came to India, the major focus was on trade and investments when she met with businessmen and ministers, yet it was clear that Britain cannot take that position until it sorts out it own problems following Brexit. India, instead of free trade with the US, pressed for was more freedom of movement. Nirmala Sitharaman, a minister with portfolios in trade and finance said, “It seems that the UK is mainly interested in greater market access for its goods in India and in getting investments from India, but not in attracting talented Indian services professionals and students.” Even PM Narendra Modi made it clear that education will define the engagement between the two countries.