Rishi Sunak’s visit to India for the G20 summit marks a “historic moment” between the UK and the Commonwealth nation, according to No 10.
Downing Street said the arrival of the Conservative Party leader, the first British prime minister of Indian descent, in New Delhi on Friday will be a “powerful reminder of the living bridge which exists between our two countries”.
Mr Sunak, who will be accompanied by his wife Akshata Murty on the trip, is expected to meet Indian prime minister Narendra Modi for bilateral talks, with officials not ruling out the premiers discussing progress on a UK-India free trade agreement (FTA).
London and New Delhi, according to UK Government figures, had a £36 billion trading relationship in 2022/23 but Mr Sunak is known to be keen to finalise an economy-boosting post-Brexit trade agreement with the country that has a population of 1.4 billion people.
With former Tory prime minister Boris Johnson originally targeting an October 2022 completion deadline, there has been speculation that one of the hold-ups to a trade pact is India’s push for more visas to be granted for its people to work in Britain.
But Downing Street said the UK would not bend on its immigration stance in order to achieve a free trade deal, with no target date set by Mr Sunak for signing off on new trade terms.
Ahead of the trip, the Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: “This is a trade deal which is focused on trade and business. Immigration is a separate issue.
“The only aspect of the movement of people covered by an FTA is business mobility, which is a temporary movement of business people for specific purposes.
“I can’t get into more detail about what has been discussed but there are no plans to change our immigration policy to achieve an FTA.”
The spokesman said the G20 was “not designed as a moment for the FTA specifically”, with attention on other geopolitical issues.
Leaders of the G20, which includes the European Union and the likes of China, the US, Brazil and Russia, began holding summits following the 2008 global financial crisis, creating a top-level forum to discuss international challenges.
While at the Indian summit, Mr Sunak has vowed to confront Russia about its invasion of Ukraine, despite the host country keeping ties open with Moscow since the conflict started in February last year.
Russian president Vladimir Putin has opted not to attend the New Delhi gathering in person but his foreign minister Sergei Lavrov is expected to attend.
Mr Sunak’s official spokesman said there was “no set moment” for the British leader and Mr Lavrov to meet.
But he said the Prime Minister will “use any opportunity in sessions to remind Lavrov to his face about the incredible damage their illegal war is causing, both in Ukraine and globally”.
In response to Mr Putin collapsing the Black Sea Grain Initiative, which allowed ships carrying grain to leave southern Ukrainian ports without fear of attack, No 10 confirmed London will host a global food security summit in November.
Britain’s military and security services will also monitor the Black Sea in a bid to deter Russia from striking cargo ships that are transporting grain from Ukraine to developing countries.
During the three-day trip, Mr Sunak is scheduled to address the main summit about international efforts to tackle climate change and support for the global economy, as well as focusing on issues such as migration and the war in Ukraine.
The Prime Minister’s spokesman said: “Building a strong global economy is at the heart of the Prime Minister’s priorities – we cannot reduce inflation, create jobs and grow our own economy without working closely with other major economies.
“So the Prime Minister will use this G20 summit to lead a global conversation on bringing down inflation, increasing economic security and harnessing the technologies of the future.”
He also plans to meet with world leaders on the fringes of the summit, including European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen after agreeing a deal for the UK to rejoin the bloc’s Horizon scientific research programme.
The itinerary for Mr Sunak, who is a practising Hindu, will see him visit important Indian cultural and religious sites, with a trip to a Hindu temple planned during his stay.
Labour’s shadow foreign secretary David Lammy said Mr Sunak would be arriving at the G20 “as a minnow on the global stage”.
He said: “He arrives in Delhi without the UK-India trade deal the Tories promised would be completed by last October.
“On climate, Sunak is chaotically retreating from his Government’s previous promises.
“And unlike the vast majority of the other world leaders, he can’t even be bothered to attend the UN General Assembly later this month.
“This G20 cannot just be used as an opportunity for personal networking and Instagram content.
“Britain needs a Prime Minister who will use the G20 to rebuild our credibility with key allies in the US and the EU, while forging new partnerships on trade, climate and critical minerals with rising powers.”