15 February 2017 09:29:31 IST

'UK easing entry norms for Commonwealth citizens could help improve India relations’

British MP Shailesh Vara says it would also help clinch a good trade agreement

Reforms to make it easier for Indian and other Commonwealth citizens to cross the UK border at airports will help UK-India relations, and potentially help towards securing a free trade agreement between the two countries, according to British Conservative MP Shailesh Vara.

Vara, a former Justice Minister, is one of 45 Conservative MPs urging the government to bring in reforms in this area as part of efforts to promote post-Brexit trade.

Proposal

“This proposal has been put to the Home Secretary; if it were to be accepted, it would certainly help British-India relations to be even closer,” he told BusinessLine in an email interview.

“And yes of course, it is hoped that the measures would help towards securing a really good trade agreement between the two countries.”

The proposals will give greater recognition to Commonwealth partners as Britain “pursued a different path post Brexit.”

‘Cumbersome process’

In a letter to British Home Secretary Amber Rudd published in the Daily Telegraph newspaper over the weekend, 45 Conservative MPs called for more “consideration” to be shown to Commonwealth citizens at border control, comparing the “cumbersome” process faced by Commonwealth citizens against what is on offer to EU citizens.

“While EU citizens are collecting their luggage or exchanging greetings with loved ones, our Commonwealth friends wait tirelessly in the ‘All other passports’ queue.”

“You are in a position to effect real, positive change in our relations with our Commonwealth partners,” the MPs said, ahead of the Commonwealth Trade Ministers meeting due to take place in March.

“The focus of this meeting is renewed trade and friendship between the UK and the Commonwealth.

“We must be clear about the importance we place on our relationship with the Commonwealth and start the process of strengthening ties for crucial future trade negotiations,” the letter said.

The suggestions made in the letter include reducing waiting times at the border through the use of dedicated Commonwealth border-control gates, and expanding a scheme that enables frequent, particularly business, travellers to register and use speedy entry lanes to include the nationals of some Commonwealth countries.

At a press conference on Monday afternoon, a Downing Street spokesperson declined to give a specific response to the proposals that are due to be debated in the House of Commons later this month.

“Once we have left the EU, clearly part of the process is taking control of our immigration system. At the same time, we are clear that we want to attract the brightest and best people to the UK.”