UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson could be the chief guest at India’s Republic Day parade in 2021 with Prime Minister Narendra Modi extending an invitation to his British counterpart last month.
If Johnson accepts, he will be the first British PM to grace the Rajpath parade in 27 years. The last UK premier to be the chief guest at the January 26 parade was John Major in 1993. As per reports, Modi formally invited Johnson during a telephone conversation on November 27, while the latter reportedly invited the Indian PM to the G7 summit to be held in the United Kingdom next year.
The British High Commission is yet to confirm the development. “We can’t confirm one way or other. PM Boris Johnson is keen to visit India as soon as possible,” news agency ANI quoted a British High Commission spokesperson as saying.
Reports of the invitation extend to Johnson come on a day when UK became the first country in the world to approve the Covid-19 vaccine developed by US drugmaker Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech, with the rollout set to begin early next week.
The timing of the proposed visit also assumes significance with the UK reaching "a make-or-break moment" on trade negotiations with the European Union. Britain formally left the EU on January 31 but then entered a transition period under which EU laws apply until the end of this year to give citizens and businesses time to adapt. A free-trade deal need to be in place by January 1.
India had last month held a virtual dialogue to review the progress towards a post-Brexit Enhanced Trade Partnership with Britain, which could lead to a free trade agreement in the future. During the talks, both sides agreed to accelerate the "deepening" of trade ties, which involved a discussion on a range of UK products, including Scotch Whiskey, and steps taken so far to unlock market access barriers to open up further opportunities for businesses on both sides.
In July, both countries had agreed to prioritise five key areas -- life sciences, information communications technology (ICT), food and drink, chemicals, and services -- to address non-tariff barriers to trade towards first an enhanced and eventually a free-trade agreement.