Britain’s secretary of state for Energy and Net Zero, Claire Coutinho, believes India and the UK share a common energy and climate change objectives.
The 38-year-old Goan-origin Conservative MP, promoted by prime minister Rishi Sunak in a recent Cabinet reshuffle, joked about setting somewhat of a trend as the latest British Indian member in frontline British politics at a Diwali reception organised by India Global Forum (IGF) on Thursday (9) evening.
As the second cabinet minister of Goan heritage after former home secretary Suella Braverman, Coutinho stressed the “hugely important” India-UK partnership and the potential for further collaboration in the climate action sphere.
“I am not the first British Indian cabinet member. I’m not even the first Goan cabinet member because we are starting quite a trend in this country,” said Coutinho.
“The relationship, that living bridge that we have with India, is so valuable because we share so many goals, and energy and climate change is no different. The innovation, the people, the finance expertise, the brilliant technologies that we are working across borders is hugely important to us to make sure that we can achieve our goal together,” she said.
From the Labour Party, shadow secretary for business and trade Jonathan Reynolds highlighted the opposition’s commitment to the ongoing negotiations towards an India-UK free trade agreement (FTA).
“As a member of the shadow cabinet with responsibility for trade, I am keeping a very close eye on those trade negotiations. I know that trade deals aren’t easy to deliver, but if they are done right, could, and, I think would, deliver a new golden age of British Indian cooperation. We are very much committed in principle on the Labour side to seeing that [FTA] succeed,” he said.
India and the UK have been negotiating an FTA since January last year, to significantly boost the estimated £36 billion bilateral relationship.
However, the talks have missed a few expected completion points, and with both countries headed into a general election year in 2024, there is a growing question mark around it being achieved under the current leadership.
“We cannot allow this relationship to become a political football that is tossed around in the political arena. I am therefore so pleased that, as every year, we have representatives from both the main political parties,” said IGF Founder and CEO Manoj Ladwa.
The annual Diwali event, attended by cross-party parliamentarians, diplomats, entrepreneurs, and business chiefs, is a celebration of the India-UK diaspora.
“When my prime minister [Narendra Modi] was here, he talked about the living bridge… the best way of looking at the direction we intend to cross the bridge i.e., the future, is what our relationship could mean for the world,” said Indian High Commissioner to the UK Vikram Doraiswami. “We are in the most exciting opportunity to leverage technology and to deploy it at scale in India through partnerships that will be second to none,” he said.
Shadow secretary for Work and Pensions Liz Kendall responded: “Like the High Commissioner, my eyes are firmly on the future. There is much I believe we can learn from what is happening, the dynamism that’s shown in India, and I’ve discussed this with the High Commissioner already. There is huge potential and huge opportunity for us to learn from what India is doing.”