The journey of post-Brexit ‘Global Britain’ has officially begun

By Kealan Finnegan

On 1st January 2021, four and a half years since the UK voted to leave, and after more than forty years of membership, the UK formally left the European Union.

A quick recap on the UK’s Brexit journey

The UK had long been expected to leave the EU on 29th March 2019, exactly two years after triggering Article 50. But after a series of extensions and a failed UK withdrawal agreement voted down in Parliament, then-Prime Minister Theresa May was eventually granted a final negotiation extension until 31st January 2020.

While the UK formally left the European Union at the end of January, it also entered an eleven-month transition period in which to agree a trade deal with the EU. On Christmas eve, just one week before the UK was set to leave the EU without a deal, current Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government, and their EU counterparts, arrived at one. The new UK-EU trade deal will allow trade without tariffs or quotas, though it will see new requirements for paperwork and certificates, and other non-tariff barriers.

Now that the UK Government can partially raise its head from the resource sapping Brexit negotiations, what are the priorities of ‘Global Britain’ in 2021, and where does India fit into that?

Global Britain

At time of writing, the UK has secured 63 trade deals, in addition to its new deal with the EU itself. Many of these are rollover deals, continuing existing trading relationships that the UK shared under its EU membership. Others, like the new trade agreement with Japan, are very similar.

The UK government is also holding trade talks with countries that do not have trade deals with the EU, such as the US, Australia and New Zealand. Of course, India falls under this bracket of countries without such a trade deal.

Enhancing the UK-India partnership

Although a UK-India free trade deal is not an immediate priority for either the UK or Indian Governments, or indeed for businesses, there is definite optimism and enthusiasm between both countries, and the trade and investment relationship is growing. This is most evident in the Enhanced Trade Partnership announced in July 2020, viewed as the first step on a roadmap to a UK-India free trade agreement, and evidenced in the related meetings between UK and Indian Ministers in recent months.

The new worldwide outlook of HMG’s ‘Global Britain’ is evident in, for example, the new Turing Education Scheme, a GBP 100 million scheme for students to study and work abroad, that will replace the UK’s participation in the Erasmus programme. As a past Erasmus student myself, I am admittedly sad to see the UK depart the Erasmus programme, but can safely say from a student-perspective that the opportunity to study abroad is immensely rewarding, and the Government is right to support others to do so in the future, albeit it outside of as well as inside the EU. From an employers’ perspective and thirdly from an international standpoint, the benefits are similarly great, by helping individuals to build international networks and relationships, and benefit from larger pools of labour, thinking and research, simultaneously binding countries together.

India’s new National Education Policy, established in July 2020, should simultaneously open the door to the possibility of greater UK-India cooperation in the higher education sector. The NEP includes the move to allow the world’s top 100 universities to operate in the country, thereby including many UK universities. We at UKIBC will continue to push for that to be extended to all UK universities, but the international openness is moving in the right direction. (Read more on the NEP, including where it falls short, from my colleague Tara Panjwani here.)

It was also positive to see the UK-EU trade deal include commitments on reducing emissions, including those from aviation, and implementing carbon pricing, amongst other environment focussed controls. It would be welcomed to see similar agreements put in place between the UK and other countries including India, especially given the UK’s role as COP26 president this year, and India leading the way on the Paris agreement to keep global warming below 2 degrees.

Collaborating on education and climate change, as two vital and future-proofed areas, would bear immense value in both countries and furthermore could incite further global cooperation. There are plentiful areas that would also bear fruit, none more obvious than healthcare and the rollout of vaccines, but also including data and digital, and infrastructure.

With PM Johnson set to visit India in the first half of 2021, we should not have to wait long for high level engagement.

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