Home Secretary Suella Braverman after the first Cabinet meeting with Rishi Sunak as Prime Minister (Victoria Jones/PA)
26 October 2022

Labour accuse Braverman of undermining ‘stalled’ trade talks with India

26 October 2022

Labour has accused the Home Secretary of having “undermined” the UK’s negotiating position in trade talks with India and attacked the Conservatives for “broken promises” on delivering deals.

Trade minister Greg Hands said the majority of chapters of a potential UK-India trade deal are “closed” and the next round of talks will begin “shortly”.

Boris Johnson said in April, on a visit to India when he was still prime minister, that he had told negotiators to get the deal done by Diwali on October 24.

Asking an urgent question in the Commons on Wednesday, Labour shadow international trade secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds said negotiations appear to have “stalled”.

He accused Home Secretary Suella Braverman of causing “offence” through remarks she made about Indians overstaying visas.

Ms Braverman, when home secretary under Liz Truss’s premiership, said she had “reservations” about relaxing immigration controls as part of any trade deal with India, telling The Spectator she had “concerns about having an open borders migration policy with India because I don’t think that’s what people voted for with Brexit”.

“Look at migration in this country – the largest group of people who overstay are Indian migrants,” she told the magazine.

Business visas remain an area of “active negotiation”, Mr Hands told MPs.

Speaking for Labour, Mr Thomas-Symonds said: “The Home Secretary has completely undermined the UK’s negotiation position.”

“Promised progress on new free trade deals has not materialised, they are all talk and no delivery,” he said, adding on the proposed India deal: “It appears that progress on trade talks have stalled. Yet another product of Conservative infighting.”

And does the minister not accept the very simple truth that on trade the Conservatives have quite simply broken their promises?

He asked if there was a target for completion and said: “The delay in this deal and the US deal means there is no prospect whatsoever of the Conservative Party meeting its manifesto aim of 80% of trade being covered by free trade agreements by the end of the year.

“And does the minister not accept the very simple truth that on trade the Conservatives have quite simply broken their promises?”

Mr Hands told the Commons: “We are negotiating an ambitious free trading agreement that works for both countries. We have already closed the majority of chapters and look forward to the next round of talks shortly.”

“We have been clear that we have concluded, as we said we would, the majority of the chapters of the deal, 16 chapters across 26 policy areas have been agreed so far,” the trade minister said when responding to Labour.

On visas, he said: “In the area of trade, what we’re talking about is mode four arrangements. These aren’t immigration arrangements. These relate to business visas not for permanent settlement. In terms of the mode four arrangements, that remains an area of active negotiation.”

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

He said the Government got a “good deal” with Japan, Australia and New Zealand, and said: “This Government is delivering on trade, it is the opposition that are in chaos and confusion, they have been unable to support a single trade deal to date, and it sounds like they won’t be supporting this one either.”

He told the Commons earlier: “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.”

Labour former minister Ben Bradshaw said: “The British are the only nationality in Europe who are currently barred from India’s e-tourist visa system.”

He said the issue is “doing great damage”.

Mr Hands replied: “We of course take an ongoing interest in the ability of our citizens to travel abroad and to access other counties.

“But I would again stress that the trade negotiation covers what is called mode four movement of people, ie – business visas, and there I am confident that we can get a good deal with India when it comes to mode four.”

Conservative MP Scott Benton (Blackpool South) called on the minister to balance the plan to “boost economic growth” with the trade deal against the Tory manifesto commitment to reduce net immigration.

Mr Benton told MPs: “The minister will be aware of our manifesto commitment to reduce net migration and the perception among many of my constituents that we are not succeeding in this aim.”

Mr Hands said: “The Prime Minister has been absolutely clear about the importance of our manifesto commitments, but I would remind him, as I reminded the whole House, that this deal is not about immigration, it is about mode four business visas, which I think is going to be really important for both countries to continue doing trade.”

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