The UK is on the cusp of signing a long-awaited free trade deal with India, a minister has suggested, as the majority of sections have already been completed.
The appointment on Tuesday of Rishi Sunak as Britain’s new prime minister fuelled hopes that a deal could be reached after the Diwali deadline was missed this week. The former chancellor is the first person of Asian descent and the first Hindu to sit in Britain's highest office.
Greg Hands, minister for trade policy, told MPs in the House of Commons on Wednesday that the government will not agree to a pact unless its terms stood to benefit Britain.
“We have already closed the majority of chapters and look forward to the next round of talks shortly,” Mr Hands said.
“We are working towards the best deal for both sides and won't sign until we have a deal that is fair, reciprocal and ultimately in the best interests of the British people and the UK economy.”
Mr Sunak, 42, was born in Southampton to Indian-origin parents who had emigrated from Africa. He is married to Indian heiress Akshata Murty, 42, and they have two daughters.
Mr Sunak’s political career was embroiled in controversy earlier this year when it surfaced that his wife had potentially avoided paying up to £20 million in tax. This was due to her non-domiciled status, which allows people to avoid tax on foreign earnings.
She owns a stake in Infosys, the Indian IT tech company cofounded by her billionaire father Narayana Murthy.
After the reports sparked uproar among opposition MPs, Ms Murty agreed to pay tax in the UK on all of her income earned overseas.
Mr Hands said India is an “economic superpower” which is projected to be the world's third-largest economy by 2050, and a trade deal would give the UK “huge opportunities”. He said it would help both sides to build on the relationship which was worth £24 billion in 2021.
His comments came as Labour MPs accused Suella Braverman of undermining government trade talks with New Delhi.
In her previous role as home secretary in Liz Truss’s Cabinet, she sparked a row between the two countries for saying she had “reservations” about relaxing immigration controls as part of any trade agreement with India.
She told The Spectator magazine that the “largest group of people [on UK visas] who overstay are Indian migrants”.
Ms Braverman was later sacked for a breach of the ministerial code after she admitted to contravening government guidelines by sharing secure information from a private email account. Mr Sunak's decision to appoint her as home secretary in his Cabinet on Tuesday was seen as controversial.
Labour's shadow international trade secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds said negotiations appear to have “stalled” and accused Ms Braverman of causing “offence” to the Indian side.
“The home secretary has completely undermined the UK’s negotiation position,” Mr Thomas-Symonds said.
“Promised progress on new free trade deals has not materialised, they are all talk and no delivery,” he said.
“It appears that progress on trade talks [with India] have stalled. Yet another product of Conservative infighting.”