The British government on Wednesday insisted that it was still hopeful of a trade deal with India by Diwali, despite concerns from a senior minister that it could increase immigration.
Former prime minister Boris Johnson visited India in April and said he wanted to get an agreement “done” before the Hindu festival of lights on October 24.
He said skilled Indian workers could plug shortages in Britain in areas such as IT and computing programming.
But Home Secretary Suella Braverman last week said she had reservations about relaxing immigration rules as Indians accounted for the largest number of visa overstayers.
She also voiced concerns about a deal signed by her predecessor Priti Patel to send back illegal migrants and overstayers, telling The Spectator magazine it had “not necessarily worked very well.”
India is pushing for more work and study visas similar to those agreed by London in deals with Australia and New Zealand which allow under-35s to live in Britain for up to three years.
The Times newspaper in London on Wednesday said the comments by Braverman, whose parents are of Indian origin, infuriated the government in New Delhi and left the talks on the “verge of collapse.”
Braverman is a noted right-wing Brexit supporter who has promised a tough line on immigration.
A spokesman for Johnson’s successor Liz Truss, who helped negotiate the early stages of the deal in her former role as international trade minister, did not directly address the minister’s comments.
But he told reporters that the government was still confident of securing a “high-ambition, free trade deal” by the deadline.
“There are complex negotiations ongoing across a range of issues and I don’t think it’d be helpful for those negotiations to get into the details,” he added.
An Indian foreign ministry spokesman said on Friday that “migration mobility is an important element” in the negotiations.
He added there had been an “understanding in this regard” and “we would expect that both sides honor it.”
“We certainly are taking actions... and we would expect the UK side to also show... demonstrable actions on that.”
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