“Britain’s current crop of ministers seem not to have taken on board that the attempted EU-India agreement foundered not because of the rest of the EU but, in substantial part, because Britain rejected it.
“Attempts to open the UK to more Indian IT specialists and other professionals (the so-called Mode 4) foundered on the objections of Theresa May. The main irritant in UK-India relations is visas. In the absence of creative ideas on freeing up immigration and visiting rights from India, ministers will continue to get a flea in their ear in Delhi.
“There is no sign of rethinking on the visa issue. I don’t think it (UK-India free trade pact) will happen. Sitharaman valued good relations, but there was quite a serious obstacle on the mobility issue in the trade talks,” he said.
Indian high commissioner YK Sinha said: “When talks begin after Brexit, both sides will have their wish lists. I don’t want to prejudge but our side will be keen on free movement of people, particularly professionals.
“Issues have been flagged, both sides are aware. But no issue can be called a deal-breaker,” he added.
Senior solicitor Sarosh Zaiwalla said: “This action (triggering Article 50) will have stark implications on both the EU, the UK and also on Indian businesses that do business with the European Union. Until now, most Indian businesses have established their European headquarters in London and have been using London as the springboard to do business in EU countries.
“Once the UK is out of the EU, different rules will prevail for trade between UK and EU and this could well require Indian businesses, who have established offices in the UK for the purpose of trading with businesses in the EU, to also establish separate offices in the EU.”
According to Zaiwalla, the “greatest risk” Indian businesses should bear in mind is the possibility of Scotland becoming independent, and “England could well become little England with a smaller population”.
He added: “The present mood in the British establishment is that UK and India would be in a better position to increase its trade by direct relations as it would not be hindered by EU’s bureaucratic rules. One hopes this will come true.”
FICCI’s UK director, Pratik Dattani, emphasised the visa issue in trade talks: “Now that Article 50 has been formally triggered, we expect to see the pace of discussion within government in terms of engagement with countries like India increase.
“We have seen some clarity over the last few months, and it remains important to note that the free movement of goods and services, and bilateral investment cannot be decoupled from mobility. Britain is still one of the largest economies in the world and will continue to remain a valuable partner for India.”