Rishi Sunak received a colourful welcome as he arrived in India to attend the G20 leaders’ summit.
The Prime Minister and his wife Akshata Murty, daughter of billionaire Indian IT giant Infosys co-founder NR Narayana Murty, were greeted by traditional dancers and music as they disembarked from RAF Voyager at Indira Gandhi Airport on Friday.
They spoke with Alex Ellis, the British high commissioner to India, and Indian minister of state Shri Ashwini Kumar Choubey before visiting the British Council in New Delhi.
Speaking to reporters on the flight from London to the Indian capital, the Conservative Party leader, who is the first British prime minister of Indian descent, spoke about how “special” it was to return to a country that is “very near and dear” to him.
He revealed it was his first time returning to India in more than three years.
Mr Sunak, who is a practising Hindu, told reporters: “It is obviously special.
“I saw somewhere that I was referred to as India’s son-in-law, which I hope was meant affectionately.
“I’m excited to be back.
“It is nice to have Akshata with me as well.”
The G20 summit will take place on Saturday and Sunday, with Mr Sunak expected to speak on the topics of migration, the global economy, the Ukraine conflict and climate change.
He is scheduled to meet Indian prime minister Narendra Modi for bilateral talks on the fringes of the summit, with officials not ruling out the premiers discussing progress on a UK-India free trade agreement (FTA).
I’m heading to the #G20 Summit with a clear focus.
Stabilising the global economy. Building international relationships. Supporting the most vulnerable.
This action is part of that – Putin again has failed to show up for the G20, but we will show up with support for Ukraine. https://t.co/tLG19ILDLr
— Rishi Sunak (@RishiSunak) September 8, 2023
Boris Johnson, when he was in Downing Street, targeted October 2022 to sign off on a post-Brexit trade pact, in a move designed to coincide with celebrations of the Hindu festival of Diwali.
His successor Liz Truss made the same commitment during her brief stint as prime minister.
But that original target has been missed by almost a year and Mr Sunak has been reluctant to set out a time frame for doing a deal with the country of 1.4 billion people.
There has been speculation that one of the hold-ups to a trade pact is India’s push for more visas to be granted for its people to work in Britain – a request Home Secretary Suella Braverman reportedly holds concerns about.
No 10 on Thursday ruled out any change to UK immigration policy to accommodate an FTA with New Delhi.
But the Prime Minister’s official spokesman indicated an expansion of business visas would potentially be considered.
The Indian government is also said to want to see the UK ratify a social security agreement, putting a stop to some temporary Indian workers in Britain effectively having to pay national insurance twice, both in the UK and in India.
The Commonwealth nation already has similar agreements with the likes of France and Canada.
The summit in India marks the gathering of leaders from the world’s 20 largest economies.
Leaders of the G20, which includes the European Union and the likes of China, the US, Brazil and Russia, began holding summits following the 2008 global financial crisis, creating a top-level forum to discuss international challenges.
Mr Sunak said he is preparing to use the sessions in New Delhi to “call out” Russia for the “suffering” it is causing with its invasion of Ukraine and its blockade of grain out of the war-torn country.
Russian president Vladimir Putin collapsed the Black Sea Grain Initiative, which allowed ships carrying grain to leave southern Ukrainian ports without fear of attack, in July.
Mr Putin has said the deal, brokered by Turkey and the United Nations, will not be restored until the West meets Moscow’s demands on its own agricultural exports.
The pact, first signed in July 2022 and extended every three months for a year, led to 33 million tonnes of grain and food exports leaving Ukraine, with the majority going to developing nations struggling for food supplies, according to the UN.
Mr Sunak said: “It is causing suffering in Ukraine, but it is also causing suffering to millions of people in very vulnerable countries around the world.
“And I want to do everything I can to hold them to account for that and to call out that behaviour.”
Mr Putin has opted not to attend the New Delhi gathering in person but his foreign minister Sergei Lavrov is expected to attend.
Mr Sunak said the Russian leader was steering clear of confrontation with the West following his invasion of Ukraine because he “doesn’t want to be held accountable”.
The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said there was “no set moment” for the British leader and Mr Lavrov to meet.
There are no set plans either for the UK leader to meet with Chinese premier Li Qiang, who is representing Beijing at the summit in president Xi Jinping’s absence, but No 10 has not shut down the possibility of a short interaction between the pair.
The weekend itinerary for Mr Sunak will see him visit important Indian cultural and religious sites, with a trip to a Hindu temple planned during his stay.