The announcement came just ahead of UK health secretary Matt Hancock announcing in the House of Commons that India would from 4 am UK time (8.30 am IST) on Friday 23 April be added to the red list, meaning anyone who is not a UK or Irish citizen or resident cannot enter the UK if they have been in India in the previous 10 days.
Downing Street and the ministry of external affairs said the decision to cancel the Johnson’s trip was a joint decision. “I do think it is only sensible to postpone given the shape of the pandemic in India,” Johnson said. “Everyone has a massive amount of sympathy with India and what they are going through. I will be talking to Narendra Modi next Monday and we will do as much as we can virtually, and I look forward to doing it in person as and when the circumstances allow.”
The trip was meant to see the announcement of a post-Brexit enhanced trade partnership, together with various announcements on climate change and deepening defence and security ties in the Indo-Pacific region. Ficci had planned a maiden India-UK health summit with the presence of both PMs. Government officials told TOI all the planned announcements were now “in limbo”.
A business delegation was meant to accompany Johnson but this was never finalised owing to the deteriorating situation.
Lord Karan Bilimoria, Confederation of British industry (CBI) president, said: “Businesses are still hopeful that an enhanced trade deal with India is on the horizon — an ambitious agreement that is forecasted to quadruple bilateral trade to £100 billion by 2030.”
Jim Bligh, chair, CII UK India Business Forum, said: “Business knows that the hard work of negotiating an enhanced trade partnership is going on regardless, and we look forward to that important document being signed.”
Others said it would have been bad optics to go ahead with the trip. “Narendra Modi should be focused on getting oxygen tanks and PPE to hospitals rather than photo-ops with a foreign dignitary,” one business leader said. “Coming at the tail end of an election campaign was not a great idea even before the surge in Covid cases. The entire government apparatus has been focused on state elections,” he said. “Modi will visit Europe before the G7 and that would be a better time for them to meet. It has been clear to businesses for two weeks the trip could not go ahead. I think it shows how important No. 10 views the trip that it did not cancel it until it became untenable.”
“If the situation improves in India, Boris may go to India before the G7 summit. There may be some announcements after the virtual meeting and there are some announcements he may like to keep for an in person meeting,” one Indian diplomat said.
A ministry of external affairs spokesperson said: “In view of the prevailing Covid situation, it has been decided by mutual agreement that the Prime Minister of the UK will not visit India next week. Both leaders attach the highest importance to taking the UK-India partnership to its fullest potential and look forward to an in-person meeting later this year.”