What Brexit might (or might not mean) for India’s relationship with Britain

RASHMEE ROSHAN LALL December 7, 2018

On November 27, India’s High Commisioner to the UK, Ruchi Ghanashyam, discussed the “opportunities and challenges” that lie ahead for the bilateral relationship.

Quite right and proper too. Brexit may very well open up opportunities – and throw up challenges too – for the UK-India equation. There is a chance the British government will woo Indian investment with tax breaks and the opening up of certain sectors. There is also a chance Britain will allow more Indians to take jobs – as needed by a European Union-exiting country that suddenly finds gaps in the workforce.

As my vet recently told me, her practice is increasingly short of European veterinarians – “they’re leaving or they don’t want to come” – and she is juggling rotas like crazy to cover gaps. And as she suggested, the state of play with regard to vets (and other professional occupations) might leave the UK with no option but to seek out skilled workers from non-European Union countries. India, in fact. What that will mean, she grimaced, is exactly the sort of chain reaction Brexiteers voted against. That is, more labour migration, and this time, more visually distinct than the white, Christian European worker. My vet is from Northern Ireland and not a Brexiteer. But as someone running a professional consultancy in the UK, she’s deeply affected by Brexit and its already discernible effect on her business.

Anyway, so there are opportunities for sure, for India and a Brexiting UK. But there are huge challenges too.

That’s not something any diplomat – British or Indian – will say. The focus of the event at Chatham House, properly known as the Royal Institute of International Affairs, was on India’s changing relationship with Britain, a likely collaboration on healthcare policy and provision. The Chatham House advert for the event highlights Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ambitious new plan to give 100 million Indian families free access to healthcare. Some commentators have compared it to the UK’s National Health Service, and synergies, if any, will be thoroughly explpred.

As Chatham House puts it: “After 70 years of a national health service, what lessons can the UK healthcare service give India? Can resourceful and low-cost innovations developed in India be adapted to the British system and, if so, how? And with India’s healthcare market estimated to grow to $280 billion by 2020, what will be the role of the private sector as India attempts to build a ‘safety-net’ for its poorest citizens?”

Quite so.

And then there is Brexit. The elephant in the room.