So Boris Johnson’s announcement of new deals with India worth some £1 billion, with more than £500 million of new investment from India in the UK expected to create some 6,000 jobs, is good news.
However, it is also decidedly underwhelming when measured against the promises made about a golden future for the UK outside the EU once we had the ability to “make our own trade deals”, as if somehow British negotiators would be able to extract better terms than their counterparts from Brussels.
Downing Street said the announcement would “pave the way” for a future free trade agreement between the two countries, while Trade Secretary Liz Truss said the jobs were “really the tip of an iceberg”, remarks that suggest the government had been hoping for more.
UK-India trade is currently worth a total of about £23 billion a year and the government aims to double this by 2030. For comparison, UK exports to the EU were worth £294 billion in 2019 (43 per cent of total British exports), while imports from the EU were worth £374 billion.
Given leading Brexiteers’ frequent complaints about “uncontrolled immigration” from the EU to the UK – otherwise known as freedom of movement, a phrase that emphasises the arrangements were a two-way street – some Leave supporters may be surprised by Truss’s comments that the UK is likely to relax immigration rules as part of an India free trade deal. “Business mobility is a key part of trade... you need to make sure you're able to get your professionals over to the country,” she said.
The apparent disdain for the vast European single market – of which the UK could have stayed a member even after Brexit had it chosen to do so – contrasts sharply with eager courting of other countries.
And if the talks with India already betray a sense of desperation on the part of the UK government, things are not looking promising for the negotiations with the US and issues like chlorinated chicken, the price the NHS pays for drugs, and a whole lot more.