Boris Johnson has called partnership between the UK and India “vital”, ahead of a meeting with his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi on Friday.
The Prime Minister will discuss defence and security collaboration across land, sea, air, space and cyber, and will also use the meeting to press for a loosening of ties with Moscow, amid concerns about India’s neutrality on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and its dependence on Russian fossil fuels.
Ahead of the meeting, Mr Johnson wrote on Twitter: “Looking forward to meeting with my friend @narendramodi today in New Delhi.
“From climate change to energy security to defence, the partnership of our democracies is vital as the world faces growing threats from autocratic states.”
Prime Minister Boris Johnson arriving at Delhi Airport. Stefan Rousseau
Mr Johnson on Thursday committed to supporting India to build fighter jets in a bid to reduce the amount of arms the nation buys from Russia.
Downing Street said the UK would offer the “best of British knowhow” to support building “new Indian-designed and built fighter jets”, but further details were unclear.
Britain will also issue an open general export licence to India, which No 10 said would speed up its defence procurement in a move that is a first outside the European Union or US.
Boris Johnson visits the Swaminarayan Akshardham temple in Gandhinagar, Ahmedabad. Stefan Rousseau
Mr Johnson said: “The world faces growing threats from autocratic states which seek to undermine democracy, choke off free and fair trade and trample on sovereignty.
“The UK’s partnership with India is a beacon in these stormy seas.
“Our collaboration on the issues that matter to both our countries, from climate change to energy security and defence, is of vital importance as we look to the future.”
India has declined to be critical of its former Cold War ally Russia and has abstained from voting in United Nations resolutions condemning Moscow.
Boris Johnson having a turban placed on his head at Gujarat Bio Technology University. Stefan Rousseau
As the West divests from Russian fuel, India has upped its purchases of Moscow’s oil and has been a major buyer of the Kremlin’s arms.
Mr Johnson’s two-day visit to India comes as his domestic political drama over partygate deepened further with new Tory calls for his resignation.
He hopes to drive forward work on a post-Brexit free trade deal with India during talks with Mr Modi, having said he wants an agreement done “by the autumn”.
Mr Johnson was open to the possibility of accepting Delhi’s demands for more immigration to the UK, saying the UK is short of “hundreds of thousands” of IT workers.
But the PM was facing renewed calls in India to speak up for minorities and democratic rights as he visited a JCB factory, while bulldozers are being used to tear down Muslim-owned properties in communal violence.
He indicated he would bring up those issues during talks with Mr Modi, who is accused of damaging India’s democracy and of whipping up anti-Muslim sentiment.
Mr Johnson’s intercontinental dash came amid the fallout after he was fined for breaching coronavirus laws with a gathering for his 56th birthday in 2020.
While out of the country, he missed a major vote on whether to launch a Commons investigation into whether he lied to MPs and performed a chaotic U-turn in backing down on an attempt to delay an inquiry.