Boris Johnson failed to mention Russia or Ukraine as he appeared before the press alongside India’s prime minister Narendra Modi following talks this morning.
The Ukraine war is a sore point in UK-India relations, as Delhi has maintained a neutral stance, condemning killings in the Kyiv suburb of Bucha but not the invasion itself and calling for diplomatic dialogue to end the conflict.
Mr Johnson vowed not to “lecture” Modi on his stance during his two-day visit, and he avoided ruffling feathers by skating over the issue as he appeared alongside his host to face the press on Friday.
In brief statements at state guest house Hyderabad House in Delhi, the pair – who took no questions from reporters and were not challenged on Mr Johnson’s travails over Partygate – announced progress in negotiations on a post-Brexit free trade agreement, with a deal to ease exports of UK medical devices to India.
Mr Johnson revealed that four chapters of the deal have now been concluded, and said that when complete it would create “hundreds of thousands” of jobs by easing trade in British machinery and Indian rice and textiles.
The PM said he wanted to accelerate talks, which enter their third round next week, telling negotiators to get the deal “done by Divali” on 24 October, while Mr Modi stuck to the end-of-2022 target originally set by the two sides .
Mr Modi said that the pair had “emphasised an immediate ceasefire in Ukraine and the use of dialogue and diplomacy for resolving issues”.
The formulation effectively separates India from the West on Ukraine by dodging the issue of Russian blame for the violence.
It conflicts starkly with Mr Johnson’s stance that talks with Moscow are pointless because Vladimir Putin cannot be trusted, and the situation can only be resolved by the failure of the Russian president’s military adventure.
But Mr Johnson chose not to pick a fight on the issue during his seven-minute statement, alluding only indirectly to the war as he hailed the close relationship between the UK and India, which he described with the Hindi phrase “khaas dost”, or “best friends”.
Since he spoke with Modi via video link at last year’s G7 summit in Cornwall, “the threats of autocratic coercion have grown even further”, he said. “It’s therefore vital that we deepen our co-operation, including our shared interest in keeping the Indo-Pacific open and free.”
In a mark of the UK’s efforts to wean Delhi off its reliance on Moscow for military supplies, the prime minister announced an Open General Export License for India, which will cut red tape and speed delivery of arms exports over the next decade.
The licenses have only previously been issued to Britain’s closest allies in the US and EU.
The UK will also promise to work with India to increase security across the five domains – land, sea, air, space and cyber.
This will involve an offer of British know-how to support new Indian-designed and built fighter jets.
And Britain will support India’s requirements for new technology to identify and respond to threats in the Indian Ocean.
The pair also announced an agreement for Britain to support the development of hydrogen technology in India, as part of a push to find alternatives to Russian oil and gas to meet its energy needs.
George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.