Mint Explainer: What does Rishi Sunak's cabinet reshuffle mean for India?

Britain's Prime Minister Rishi Sunak chairs a cabinet meeting at 10 Downing Street on 14 November, following a reshuffle (Photo: AFP)
Britain's Prime Minister Rishi Sunak chairs a cabinet meeting at 10 Downing Street on 14 November, following a reshuffle (Photo: AFP)

Summary

  • Observers speculate that the British prime minister is trying to return his government to a policy of centrist pragmatism

A dramatic cabinet reshuffle in the United Kingdom has seen British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak sack Home Secretary Suella Bravermann – replacing her with former foreign secretary James Cleverly – and bring former prime minister David Cameron back into politics as foreign secretary. 

The changes could have implications for India’s free-trade negotiations with the UK, given that Braverman is stridently opposed to increased immigration. Mint breaks down the situation.

What happened?

On Monday, Britain’s first Asian-origin premier fired his controversial Home Secretary Suella Braverman and brought former Prime Minister David Cameron back to frontline politics as foreign minister. Observers of British politics speculate that Sunak is trying to return his government to a policy of centrist pragmatism.

Braverman, who was ostensibly let go for her comments criticising the “lenient" handling of pro-Palestinian protests in the UK, was seen as a key figure in the hard-right wing of Sunak’s party. Her vocal criticism of immigration and multiculturalism, which have become increasingly common in Britain, has made her the subject of much controversy. Bringing Cameron back as foreign minister is being seen as an attempt to cultivate a more measured and mature image for the government on the world stage.

What does Cameron’s return mean for India?

As prime minister from 2010 to 2016, Cameron was an advocate for closer ties with India. He visited India in July 2010, just two months after he took office for the first time. He returned for two more visits in 2013, and hosted Prime Minister Narendra Modi at a summit in London in 2015.

During his tenure, he pushed for increased trade and investment from the UK into India, particularly in infrastructure. His government signed a civil nuclear deal with India and also backed a closer defence partnership between the two countries. As prime minister, Cameron also backed India’s bid for a permanent seat on the UN Security Council. He also met with Foreign Minister S Jaishankar on his first day as Britain’s foreign minister.

Are there any concerns?

Yes – in a word, China. As prime minister, Cameron tried to push for a much closer relationship with Beijing and even went so far as to mention a “golden era" in bilateral ties. However, the UK’s view of China has hardened considerably in recent years. “China poses the biggest challenge of our age to global security and prosperity," Sunak said in May this year. Cameron’s misjudgement of China, Brexit and Western interventions in Libya have meanwhile left him with an unenviable reputation for foreign-policy judgment.

How does Braverman’s exit affect India?

As home secretary, Braverman’s comments on migration to the UK had caused a public stir in India. She had expressed fears that a trade agreement with India would lead to increased migration to the UK and said that Indians comprised the largest group among people who overstayed their visas.

“I have concerns about having an open borders migration policy with India because I don’t think that’s what people voted for with Brexit," she said in October 2022. India’s government pushed back amid concern that Braverman’s position in the government would hold back the free-trade agreement but talks have continued despite her interventions. Her replacement as home secretary, former foreign secretary James Cleverly, is unlikely to take such a public stand against the UK government.

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