The impact of Brexit on India depends upon the general election of the UK scheduled for December 12, 2019. With Conservatives in power, Brexit seems to bring opportunities for India on many fronts. However, if the Labour Party comes into power, it may reverse that impact. The reason is the varied ideologies of both the parties concerning India.
Historically, Indian National Congress (INC) had taken the Conservative Party with a pinch of salt. The racial slurs by Prime Minister Winston Churchill of the Conservative Party on the Bengal famine of 1943-44 and his remarks during the debate of the Independence Bill in British Parliament in 1947 had turned Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and the INC against the Conservatives. However, it was nothing compared to the damage done by British Labour Party to the integrity of India. Prime Minister Clement Atlee (1945-1951) of the Labour Party launched the 1947 Indian Independence Act, under the Cabinet Mission that led to the partition of British India into India and Pakistan, disregarding the INC’s persistent objections.
Most importantly, Atlee laid down a strategy, still maintained by most leftist Labour representatives, that claims that Kashmir is a conflict to be addressed under the UN resolution. They do not recognise the regions of Jammu & Kashmir’s accession to India as legal and final. This is directly mentioned in the Labour Party 1995 Resolution, which states “Britain must recognise its obligations as the former imperial power in a conflict resulting from the independence arrangements.” At the Labour Party Conference in Brighton 1997, Gerald Kaufman, the late-influential Labour Party MP, called for the Labour Government to internationalize the Kashmir issue.
The current position of the Labour Party is no different than what it was in the past. On August 11, 2019, the party leader tweeted that the situation in Kashmir is ‘alarming’ and called for India to curb ‘human rights abuses’ and ensure that ‘UN resolutions were implemented.’ At the Brighton conference on 25 September 2019, the Labor Party adopted a resolution that accepts Kashmir as a disputed territory and supports the right to self-determination for citizens of Kashmir in compliance with UN resolutions. Later, Ian Lavery, Chair of the Labour Party recognised that the language used in the emergency motion had offended the Indians and he acknowledged the Kashmir issue as a bilateral issue between India and Pakistan. However, he added that the official position of the Labour Party on Kashmir remains the same as reported in its 2019 annual report by National Policy Forum, which again supports the UN intervention on the Kashmir issue. These events explain why in India the Labour Party is still associated with an anti-India stance, especially on the issue of Kashmir.
On the other hand, the Conservative Party, led by current Prime Minister Boris Johnson, has a neutral stance over Kashmir and sees it as a bilateral issue between India and Pakistan. Moreover, the Conservative Party has built a strong relationship with India in the recent past. David Cameron has become a strong advocate of strengthening ties with India. This was already clear in 2006 when, as opposition leader, he claimed in the newspaper article ‘We need to forge a new special relationship with India’ that it is time to give top priority to the relationship between Britain and India. Cameron made three trips to India as Prime Minister between 2010 and 2016: in July 2010, February 2013 and November 2013. All the three visits enhanced the nations’ partnership through the signing of various memorandums of understanding (MoUs) in several areas. Subsequently, the relationship improved post-2015 general elections when the talks of Free Trade Agreements between India and UK post-Brexit became common. This was supported by the UK’s Prime Minister’s pledge of new and improved ties between both nations.
Recently, the Kashmir issue further built up the ties between the Conservative Party and the BJP. The pro-BJP groups are actively campaigning for the Conservatives in 48 seats that are expected to witness tight contests and trying to mobilise Indians to not vote for Labour.
THE IMPACT OF POST-ELECTION BREXIT ON INDIA
These two major political parties have taken divided stance over Brexit. Conservatives have negotiated to leave the EU’s single market and customs union while Labour wants to again call for a referendum and re-negotiate a Brexit deal by maintaining to stay in a customs union and keeping close alignment to the single market. Thus, there are two scenarios in which the results of the general election will pan out.
If the Conservatives win, they will proceed with the proposed plan of Brexit. Conservative-led Brexit would improve the ties of UK-India and provide smoother ways of concluding the bilateral free trade pacts. As stated in the Commonwealth report, due to the slow pace of negotiations on a trade agreement with the EU, Brexit offers India with a fresh chance to reinforce its financial partnership with the UK through a trade and investment arrangement between India and the UK. Recently, as part of the Joint Economic and Trade Committee (JETCO), both countries decided to set up three new bilateral working groups to enhance trade in the food and beverage, healthcare, and information services industries in India. With the enhancement of bilateral trade in services, job opportunities for skilled and unskilled labour in the service sector in merchanting and other business-related services could be generated.
If the Labour wins, they will propose a new referendum for Brexit that may or may not cancel Brexit. In any case, a Labour government will result in anti-India arrangements that will directly impact Indian politics, as they may again intervene in the relations of India and Pakistan, even beyond the Kashmir issue.