U.K. PM Boris Johnson calls off trip, expresses sympathy for India’s COVID-19 crisis

U.K. PM Boris Johnson calls off trip, expresses sympathy for India’s COVID-19 crisis

Officials in London and Delhi decided by “mutual agreement” to call off Boris Johnson’s trip

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Monday cancelled his visit to India, due on April 25-26, “in view of the prevailing COVID situation”, both governments announced. The decision was taken after weeks of discussions over how to proceed with the visit despite the pandemic, and last week officials had said he would cut short the duration and limit his travel to Delhi. With no let-up in the surge of cases in India, however, officials in London and Delhi decided by “mutual agreement” to call off the trip.

“I do think it’s only sensible to postpone, given what’s happened in India, the shape of the pandemic there,” Mr. Johnson told reporters, adding that while it will be ‘frustrating’ to hold the summit via video conference, he hoped to meet Prime Minister Narendra Modi “when circumstances allow”, and expressed “massive amounts of sympathy” for India during the crisis.

“The two sides will be holding a virtual meeting in the coming days to launch plans for a transformed India-U.K. relationship,” the Ministry of External Affairs official spokesperson said in a statement.

“Both leaders attach the highest importance to taking the India-U.K. partnership to its fullest potential and propose to remain in close touch in this regard and look forward to an in-person meeting later in the year.”

On Sunday, British Opposition parliamentarians had called on Mr. Johnson to cancel his trip in view of reports of the “double mutant” strain originating in India. 

Hours after the decision was announced, Britain’s National Health Security agency decided to put India on its “red list”, which will restrict other passengers from entering and require all British nationals travelling from India to the U.K. to quarantine at a hotel for 10 days, the Health Minister announced in Parliament

While the virtual summit is expected next week on Monday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has also been invited to the U.K. to attend the G-7 summit in mid-June in Cornwall, where India is a special invitee and the COP climate change summit in Glasgow in November. The G-7 meeting is considered important as it will also be a possible venue for the four-nation Quad summit with the U.S., Australia and Japan, that U.S. President Biden has been keen to convene. Prior to that, Mr. Modi is expected to travel to Porto, Portugal for the E.U.-India summit on May 8, and also visit France at the same time. Officials said that at present, both visits are still on. It is unclear whether Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, who was due to visit Delhi soon after Mr. Johnson, will still do so. Several other visits, including that of Rwanda President Kagame, Danish PM Frederiksen and Australian Foreign Minister Payne have also been cancelled in the last few weeks.

Mr. Johnson had to cancel his previous trip in January due to a wave of novel coronavirus cases in the U.K.

In the run up to this visit, a number of agreements have been negotiated, and are expected to be announced now at the virtual summit, including an Enhanced Trade Partnership agreement to launch negotiations towards a comprehensive trade deal, as well as a “2030 Roadmap” to set the course of ties in a number of areas. In March, the U.K. unveiled its first ever “Integrated Review of Security, Defence, Development and Foreign Policy” to revamp its international outlook with a decided focus on the Indo-Pacific region.

“Our vision is for re-energised trade and investment, rooted in S&T and supporting levelling up in the U.K. and India alike; enhanced defence cooperation that brings a more secure Indian Ocean Region, building on the existing biannual Ministerial Defence Dialogues; and U.K.-India leadership to tackle global challenges like climate change, clean energy and global health,” the document had said about the proposed ties with India.

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