PM to cut length of India trip due to soaring Covid rate in south Asian country

Patrick Daly, PA Political Correspondent
·3-min read

Boris Johnson will scale down his trip to India due to the worsening coronavirus situation in the south Asian country.

The Prime Minister had been due to spend four days in India at the end of the month but, following talks with Narendra Modi’s administration, the “bulk” of the meetings could be shoehorned into only one day.

Covid-19 rates are soaring India, with more than 180,000 new infections detected since Tuesday.

The country has so far confirmed more than 13.9 million cases and 172,000 dead in what is likely to be an undercount.

Mr Johnson’s trip, which has already been pushed back from January due to the UK’s own battle with a winter wave of infections, is part of Britain’s foreign policy “tilt” towards the Indo-Pacific, as announced in the Integrated Review last month.

The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: “We’ve been in close contact with the Indian government about the PM’s upcoming visit in the light of the Covid situation in India.

“As a result of these discussions, the Prime Minister has made the decision to reduce the length of the visit which is due to take place at the end of this month, so it will be a shorter programme in New Dehli.

“This programme will be focused on high-level discussions with the Indian government and Indian business leaders.

“We will set out more details in due course but the visit will include a bilateral meeting with prime minister Modi.

“As with all the PM’s visits, his trip to India will prioritise the safety of those involved and all elements will be Covid secure.”

The spokesman said the exact length of the trip would be announced at a later date but that No 10 expected the “bulk of the PM’s programme to take place on Monday 26th” April.

The jaunt is due to be his first major international visit since securing post-Brexit trade terms with the European Union, underlying the importance of India to the UK’s shifting foreign policy vision.

The change in emphasis will be underlined by the deployment of the HMS Queen Elizabeth carrier strike group to the region on its maiden operational mission later this year.

While he was foreign secretary in 2017, Mr Johnson caused offence at a visit to a Sikh temple in Bristol when he told those gathered that he wanted to sign a post-Brexit free trade deal with India in order to boost the whisky trade.

Consuming alcohol is forbidden under some Sikh teachings.

He said at the time: “I hope I’m not embarrassing anybody here by saying that when we go to India, we have to bring ‘clinky’ in our luggage – we have to bring Johnnie Walker.

“There is a duty of 150% in India on imports of Scottish whisky. So we have to bring it in for our relatives duty free.

“Imagine what we could do with a trade deal with India, which there will be, because then the tariffs would go.”