Coronavirus: ‘Only sensible’ to cancel India trip says Johnsonon April 19, 2021 at 12:10 pm

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The PM’s visit has been cancelled amid concerns over rising Covid cases in the country.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said it was “only sensible” to cancel his trip to India, due to take place on 26 April, given the Covid situation in the country.

India has been reporting more than 200,000 cases daily since 15 April.

Mr Johnson said he would instead speak to the Indian PM Narendra Modi online.

The trip has already been rescheduled once – it was originally meant to take place in January but was cancelled due to the UK’s national lockdown.

The UK government had hoped the visit – billed as the PM’s first major overseas trip since taking office – would boost trade and investment ties, and move the two countries closer to securing a post-Brexit trade agreement.

However, the spread of a Covid variant in India had led some to suggest the trip should not go ahead.

On Sunday, India confirmed 1,620 deaths from the virus and its capital Delhi has been put into lockdown.

Health officials in the UK are investigating whether the variant, first found in India, spreads more easily and is able to resist the vaccine.

Public Health England says 73 cases have been detected in England, and four in Scotland.

India is not currently on the UK government’s “red list” – meaning people returning from the country do not have to quarantine in a hotel for 10 days.

The chief medical advisor for NHS Test and Trace, Dr Susan Hopkins, said the UK did not have enough data yet to determine if India should be put on the list.

Mr Johnson said: “The red list is very much a matter for the independent UK Health Security Agency – they will have to take that decision.”

Asked about his cancelled India visit, the PM said it was “frustrating” but “Narendra Modi and I have basically come to the conclusion that, very sadly, I won’t be able to go ahead with the trip.

“I do think it’s only sensible to postpone, given what’s happened in India, the shape of the pandemic there.

“Countries around the world including our own have been through this – I think everybody’s got a massive amount of sympathy with India, what they’re going through.”

He added that the relationship between the UK and India is of “huge importance”.

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Analysis box by Adam Fleming, Chief political correspondent

To cancel one prime ministerial trip to India is unfortunate. To cancel twice is…

The government want a trade deal with Delhi. Or to start talks about a trade deal with Delhi, at the very least.

That could become a little bit harder now that Boris Johnson’s tour has been cancelled for a second time.

Hence why the Prime Minister wants to keep up the contact with his counterpart Narendra Modi virtually, and is flagging other opportunities for them to meet face to face, such as this summer’s G7 summit in Cornwall.

But is that meeting now in doubt, as coronavirus interrupts the travel plans of world leaders just as much as the rest of us?

And some observers say that the logistics of dealing with India is the easy part, and negotiating a trade deal will be significantly harder.

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Last week, Downing Street said Mr Johnson’s visit to India would be scaled down – with the bulk of the meetings taking place on Monday 26 April, rather than across four days as originally planned.

But Labour argued the trip should be cancelled entirely, with its shadow communities minister, Steve Reed, telling Sky News he did not understand “why the prime minister can’t conduct his business with the Indian government by Zoom”.

One senior Conservative also told the BBC it would have been “absurd” for the trip go ahead.

Following the second cancellation of the visit to India, the UK and Indian government said Mr Johnson and Mr Modi remained in regular contact and would meet in person later this year.

The prime minister’s official spokesman said there wasn’t “one single factor” behind the decision to cancel Mr Johnson’s trip to India.

He said the situation in the country was “challenging” and that it was “not the right time for a visit.”

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