Rishi Sunak will hold talks with Narendra Modi during the G20 summit in Delhi on Saturday to push for a UK-India trade deal, but will not urge the Indian leader to take a stronger stance on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine as had been expected.
The two prime ministers are due to meet on Saturday, with trade and immigration likely to be on the agenda, but not the war in Ukraine.
They were due to meet a day earlier but the plans were postponed. Officials would not say why that happened, but Modi did hold a high-profile discussion with the US president, Joe Biden, on Friday evening.
Downing Street is hoping to sign a free trade agreement with India later this year following nearly two years of negotiation, and plans to use the summit as an opportunity to make progress on that.
Sunak told the Indian broadcaster ANI: “Both Modi-ji [a term of respect in India] and I are keen to see a comprehensive and ambitious trade deal concluded between our two countries. Both of us think that there is a good deal to be done.”
Downing Street had said in advance of the trip that Sunak would use his meeting with the prime minister to push India to take a firmer stance towards Russia, given it still imports both oil and weapons from there.
But Sunak later made it clear he would not push Modi to change his country’s trading arrangements. “It’s not for me to tell India what positions to take on international issues,” he said.
A No 10 spokesperson added: “We’re always looking to further deepen the coalition of countries that are in opposition to Russia’s illegal war. I think you’ve already heard from India, who have shown strong support for the UN charter and the need to respect sovereign borders.”
India has expressed support for the UN charter, which calls on member states to respect other countries’ sovereignty, but has refused to vote for UN resolutions condemning Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Sunak’s visit to India gives him some relief from domestic difficulties, including the school buildings crisis and the hunt to find the prisoner who escaped from Wandsworth jail.
He has been received warmly in Delhi, where he has travelled along with his wife, Akshata Murty, who is the daughter of one of India’s most famous business tycoons. He said in advance of the trip he hoped to be greeted like “India’s son-in-law”.
Any possibility of the two of them being able to tour Delhi and meet locals has been scuppered, however, by the fact that almost the entire city has been shut down for the event.
They dined alone on Friday night after a planned business event at the British high commission was cancelled because executives were unable to get through the police cordons set up around the city.