If not for the crisis in Ukraine and all the hype around the lockdown parties, the political debate would be dominated by two questions: how best to get out of the pandemic and how to get the most out of Brexit.
The first remains problematic, the massive levels of debt accumulated in the two years following the Covid strike led the government to prioritize fiscal prudence over a rush for growth. The tax hikes that took effect this month come at a time when household incomes are being strained by inflation and high energy costs. A contraction in consumer spending seems inevitable, with uncertain knock-on effects.
The latter depends on the UK’s ability to make the most of its new freedoms from EU membership to boost its global trade. One of the arguments of the Brexit saga has been that Europe is a declining market while those in the rest of the world, and in particular Asia, are growing rapidly.
Apart from China, there is no more important country in the region than India, the world’s largest democracy and one with longstanding ties to the UK, for better or for worse. the worst. This week Boris Johnson will travel to Delhi for a visit postponed for a year due to Covid. Achieving a trade deal with India is seen by Brexit supporters as emblematic of the benefits that leaving the EU could bring.
Last year, the two countries adopted a 10-year “roadmap” to expand ties in key areas of trade and economy, defense and security, climate change and people-to-people relations . Negotiations for a trade agreement began in January. But the geopolitical landscape has changed significantly over the past year. In particular, India’s studied neutrality on the issue of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine indicates that it by no means shares the same foreign policy imperatives as the UK or the West.
Narendra Modi, the prime minister, sees an opportunity for India to play the role of honest broker in the conflict, but given international condemnation of Moscow’s action, this is a difficult position to maintain . Mr Johnson will no doubt urge India to be more forceful in its approach to Russia, and Mr Modi could be forced to choose sides if the war escalates and sanctions escalate.
Close relations with India are important for ‘global Britain’. But Mr Johnson should be under no illusions that, as with Germany in Europe, economic, military and diplomatic self-interest will not be Mr Modi’s guiding principle.