London will always be at forefront of India–UK ties
Sadiq Khan, the Mayor of London, discusses India’s ties with London and his hopes for stronger UK-India relations post Brexit.
The long-standing, centuries-old connections between Britain and India, which were originally forged on the basis of trade, remain etched into the landscape of modern London. While the West India Docks (now home to Canary Wharf) and the East India Docks (now a sanctuary for wildlife) are no longer operating, their legacy lives on in our city as they were once among the busiest docks in the world, importing tea, spices and various other Indian commodities.
But it isn’t just the names of some of London’s historic sites that shed light on the enduring ties that exist between India and our city. The stories of many of today’s Londoners do too, not least my own which in many ways is bound up with the history of India–UK relations.
It’s apparent today both London and India value pluralism and that each subscribes to the idea of unity in diversity. In fact, I strongly believe that our diversity is one of our greatest strengths and so against this backdrop of common values, I want to build on our shared democratic and cosmopolitan culture to establish an even stronger relationship between our city and the State of India.
I think there is immense potential to deepen and expand our links across a wide range of fields, from business and the economy to tourism, higher education, clean energy and finance. Of course, our shared history, shared connections and shared values make this a natural partnership. But so too does the fact that London plays host to an enormous Indian diaspora community, numbering over 610,000 people—the largest of all the overseas populations living here in our capital.
In my role as mayor of London, I want to support, facilitate and grow these bonds that draw us so closely together because I firmly believe that moving forward our city and India have much to gain from increased cooperation and partnership.
Scope for investments
Measured by the total number of projects, India is the second-largest investor in London after the US. The country accounted for 11 per cent of all foreign direct investment projects in London from 2005 to 2016, creating around 5,000 new jobs.
I’m proud to say the investment is flowing both ways though, with exciting new opportunities emerging for London firms to partner with Indian cities, amid recent commitments by the UK businesses to make £2 billion worth of investments in the country over the next five years. The rise of India’s sizeable English-speaking middle class also means in the decades ahead, our creative industries are set to export more of their output than ever before to the subcontinent. What’s clear to me is that there is massive scope for London’s companies to engage with and tap the potential of India’s widening consumer base in the coming years.
Indian tech firms, as well as those from the United States, East Asia and of course Europe, will only locate to London if they are sure they can call on workers with the necessary skill sets. This is an argument I regularly make to the UK government because I know that the only way London can maintain its competitive edge is by protecting its ability to attract first-rate talent from across the globe. However, there is no escaping the harsh reality that the number of Indian students studying in London has declined considerably in the last four years—partly due to the removal of the post-study work visa. In my view, it is absolutely crucial that foreign students who want to study in London are able to do so, because they are crucial for our economy.
While the result of the EU referendum was not the one that I, or indeed the majority of Londoners had hoped for, Britain is now on course to leave the EU. I regret that, and I’m sure that view will be shared by Indian business interests in London, but we must deal with the situation as it is, not as we might wish it to be. And so, I note that following the EU referendum, India was among the first countries to express an interest in agreeing to a bilateral trade deal with the UK at the earliest opportunity. I will press the UK government to make sure a trade deal with India is a high priority.
Throughout my mayoralty, I pledge to do whatever I can to further strengthen and develop that friendship because I know that across our country, especially in London, Indians and the Indian diaspora have made an absolutely vital contribution to our economic and cultural life. And while I cannot speak for the whole of the UK, what I can say on behalf of London is that we will always be open to India and the Indian people.
The above is a synopsis of one of the chapters from ‘Winning Partnership: India-UK Relations Beyond Brexit’, edited by India Inc. Founder & CEO Manoj Ladwa.