Boris Johnson has said his long-awaited visit to India this week will focus on “the things that really matter” to the people of both countries, primarily jobs and growth.
Although Tory MPs have been talking up Johnson’s role as a leader of the international pro-Ukraine coalition, an advance government briefing about the visit did not mention the war – which has not led to India loosening its close links with Russia.
India abstained last month in the United Nations vote condemning the Russian invasion, and the two countries continue to trade with each other.
Johnson said on Sunday: “As we face threats to our peace and prosperity from autocratic states, it is vital that democracies and friends stick together.
“India, as a major economic power and the world’s largest democracy, is a highly valued strategic partner for the UK in these uncertain times.
“My visit to India will deliver on the things that really matter to the people of both our nations – from job creation and economic growth to energy security and defence.”
Johnson was originally due to visit India in January last year, but that trip was cancelled as the second wave of the coronavirus swept the UK, propelled by the Alpha variant.
No 10 tried to reschedule the visit to last April, but that flight was cancelled too, at relatively short notice, after India was struck by its own Covid emergency, triggered by the Delta variant.
Johnson was reluctant to postpone, and there were allegations that the government delayed putting India on its travel red list for longer than it should have because Johnson did not want to jeopardise the visit.
His visit this week will start on Thursday in Gujarat. No 10 said this would be the first time a British prime minister has visited the state, which is an ancestral home to about half the British-Indian population in the UK.
From there, Johnson will visit New Delhi for talks on Friday with his Indian counterpart, Narendra Modi. Their meeting will cover the UK-India free trade agreement that is currently being negotiated, which it is claimed could boost trade between the two countries by £28bn by 2035, as well as the defence partnership.
The UK’s integrated defence and security review, published last year, identified ties with India as a priority relationship, as part of the UK’s tilt to the Indo-Pacific.
Johnson is also expected to announce new investment deals, as well as collaborations covering science, health and technology.