India piled pressure on the British government this week for the early return of Vijay Mallya. A simple translation of diplomatic language into plain language suggests that the British are more than listening.
Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla told media representatives that he had brought up the extradition of both Mallya and Nirav Modi at his meetings with British Home Secretary Priti Patel and other senior British ministers in London.
Shringla said he “strongly underlined” India’s interest in seeing “early, expeditious extradition of Vijay Mallya”. He said India wanted Mallya back “as soon as possible". As diplomatic language goes, this suggests the language of pressure tending towards extreme.
The inevitable question, that CNN-News18 put to Shringla, was whether the UK government had offered any commitment in response. Shringla did not respond to that directly, but he said British ministers had taken close and careful note of the concern raised by India. Translating into plain terms again, British leaders appeared to have suggested that they take on board what India wants, and that they will do their most, and fast.
Timing is of the essence through this last round of communication. India has been waiting six months now after winning its extradition case against Mallya, and the Indian government clearly finds that loo long already.
A careful note from the UK government in June this year said a “ legal matter” had arisen that it could not comment on because it was “confidential.” This matter it said, was delaying his return, but that it is seeking to “deal with this as quickly as possible.” Send Mallya back, that is. The UK government added in a note: “We cannot estimate how long this issue will take to resolve.”
The following month in July British high commissioner to India Philip Barton repeated that he “can’t say anything at all about timescales.” But again he underlined that Britain was keen to take a line supportive of the Indian government. “We are all determined to play our part in any case, and to make sure that we’re working together to ensure that criminals can’t escape justice by crossing national borders.”
The reasons for the delay in Mallya’s return are clear: he has sought asylum in Britain, as reported first by CNN News18. That reason secret and confidential only in the sense that by law the UK government cannot comment on such cases.
Barton indicated as much by refusing to answer a question whether Mallya had sought asylum in Britain. The government, he said, never comments on individual asylum cases. That refusal to comment speaks of the legal protocol of public comment, not about the facts of the Mallya case.
Those facts are simply that Mallya lost his final appeal against extradition on April 20 after the high court in London denied permission to him to appeal to the UK Supreme Court against extradition. The logical legal route within the extradition process would be for the magistrate’s court that had heard the case and first ordered extradition to inform the Home Office accordingly, for Home Secretary Priti Patel to then issue an order for Mallya to be sent back within 28 days of that order being issued.
It is then that Mallya filed for asylum, and it is this that has blocked his return ordered through the extradition process. By law the UK government has to consider an asylum application, that then goes through a given process that includes legal appeals over any government decision. The decision by the Home Office is clear: Priti Patel’s department is determined to send Mallya back both for legal reasons arising out of the decision of the courts, and given the strong, and now growing, political pressure from India.
But an order from the Home Office can be contested legally, through a Tier 1 and then a Tier 2 appeal open to every asylum applicant. It is this process that is taking time and delaying Mallya’s return. And it is for this reason that the UK government cannot declare a time frame for his return, after being tied legally into confidentiality over this, or any, asylum application. Mallya clearly is playing to gain time, successfully so far.
Not a Spectator
This still does not mean that the UK government has retreated into spectator position over the process. The UK government cannot decide a legal matter but it can speed up the process by which a legal decision can be taken. Priti Patel has made it clear that the government is doing just that, not specifically or solely in the case of Mallya, but more fundamentally in a process that would include this case.
Priti Patel announced last month that the government is determined to fix a “fundamentally broken” asylum system. That commitment at the annual party conference came within the context of a growing number of people crossing over into Britain, and then seeking asylum. But it would cover of course all asylum cases.
Patel said changes to law and legal processes would take time but that she would “accelerate the UK’s operational response in the meantime.” The UK government, she was emphatic, would work to expedite the removal of those with “no claim for protection.”
Such acceleration of process is hardly likely to leave out the Mallya file – and is very likely to move it higher in the list of cases the government is taking on through the asylum appeal courts. Shringla has now put it bluntly across to the UK government that India needs it to push down on the pedal over Mallya a good deal faster than it is doing.