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'Like India, Britain is proud of its past, confident of future'

Sir James Bevan/ 09 Dec 12 | 12:14 AM

Myth one: Brits are stuffy and old fashioned
London 2012 Olympics summed up modern Britain. The world got the warmest welcome in the most modern Olympic games ever... The juxtaposition of old and new permeated the Olympics, just as it permeates every aspect of Britain. London itself. The Tower of London, the Houses of Parliament, Buckingham Palace — these are all part of our heritage that we embrace. But there is a more modern London, too: the London of Canary Wharf, the new financial district in what was the old Docklands, and a new iconic skyline: the Gherkin, the ArcelorMittal Orbit Tower and the Shard — the tallest building in Europe. Like India, Britain is both proud of its past and confident of its future.

Myth two: The UK is a declining power
Britain’s best days are ahead of us. The UK has some big assets, which fit us well for the challenges of the 21st century. It is important to be clear sighted about today’s economic situation. It is tough. But the British economy is healing. It’s a hard road, but we’re on the right track. The next year the UK is predicted to grow faster than France or Germany.

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Britain is one of the most business-friendly environments in the world. The UK is a world leader in the things which drive prosperity and growth: science, technology, and innovation. The iPod, designed by a Brit; the internet, invented by one; and the Higgs Boson, the so-called God particle which explains why the physical world works, predicted by a Brit — and found earlier this year. In the last five years, Indian companies have put more investment into the UK than into the whole of the rest of the European Union put together. Monocle (US magazine) declared that the UK was the leading nation for “soft power" in 2012 pushing the US into second position for the first time ever.

Myth three: The UK is closed to visitors
We are committed to ensuring that the world’s best and brightest still come to the UK, for the simple reason that it’s in our own interest. So we will continue to welcome all genuine Indian visitors, students and business people to the UK. Last year, nearly nine of 10 Indians who applied for a UK visa (87 per cent) were successful. India is the UK’s biggest visa operation in the world. We want Indian business people to continue to come to the UK. We provide special visa services for major investors, regular travellers and high value customers. Of those who applied for a business visitor visa last year, over 95 per cent were successful...

Myth four: Students aren’t welcome
We have four of the top six universities in the world. We actively seek to attract the best and brightest students to Britain: it’s good for our education sector, our economy and our place in the world. And, many of India’s students are the best and brightest. While the overall numbers of student visas issued declined by 26 per cent last year (2011-12), mostly as a result of our clampdown on bogus colleges, the numbers of international students accepted by UK universities has risen by four per cent. Last year, 75 per cent students who applied were successful. No limit on the numbers. Indian graduates can stay and work in the UK in a graduate level job for at least three years with the possibility of extension for a further three. This is better than the previous arrangement, which limited the automatic right to stay for work to just two years.

Myth five: The UK, India are not as close as they were
What appears to be stable and perhaps even a bit boring on the outside can disguise profound and positive transformation within. This is what is happening in the UK-India relationship. In 2010, within weeks of being elected, David Cameron came to India with the largest overseas delegation led by a prime minister in modern times. His aim was simple – to build a stronger, wider and deeper relationship between the new Britain and the new India. Because the 21st century, more than any previous period, will be shaped by India. It was equally clear that this partnership could not rest on the sentimentality of the past. It needed to be a partnership of equals, characterised by mutual respect, and founded on mutual interest to the benefit of our two peoples. Since 2010, on average, there has been a senior British minister visiting India every month. This has been a two-way process, with the UK playing host to more and more senior visitors from India.

We are on track to meet our target of doubling trade by 2015. In 2011, bilateral trade grew by 26 per cent, bringing the total to £16 billion. BP is making the single largest foreign investment into India. Tata is now the largest manufacturing employer in the UK (45,000 jobs). There is a natural fit between our two economies. As the Indian foreign minister recently said, trade not aid is the future. So, we have agreed to move to a modern development partnership, based on technical cooperation, on support for the private sector to unlock growth and jobs that benefit the poor, and on working together on international development issues.

The UK is opening two new deputy high commissions in Hyderabad and Chandigarh. This gives us the largest diplomatic network in India — a network that plays a vital role in creating new opportunities for partnership. Our belief that India will matter more in future, and that all of India matters, also played a part in our recent decision to change our policy on Gujarat. If you want to build a stronger relationship with India, as we do, you can’t ignore Gujarat. And, if you want to deal with any Indian state, you need to deal with the government of that state. We also decided recently to ease our travel advice for Jammu and Kashmir, for the first time in 20 years. Our travel advice is based on an objective assessment of the security situation...

My aim is to make our relations closer, our countries safer, and our people richer. And I’m confident that as the links between us thrive, the myths that sometimes separate us will disappear.


Excerpts from British High Commissioner to India Sir James Bevan’s speech, “The UK and India: Myths, Reality And Prospects", at an event jointly organised by the India International Centre, the Indian Association of Foreign Affairs Correspondents and the British High Commission, in New Delhi on December 6

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