Foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt, who is also a candidate for the UK Prime Minister elections, said he will accord the highest priority to relations with India.
Over 1.6 lakh Conservative members are currently voting by postal ballots for the two candidates. The result will be declared on July 23 and the next party leader will succeed Theresa May as the prime minister on the next day.
As Johnson, 55, and Hunt, 52, addressed live televised hustings across the UK, focusing mainly on their approach to Brexit, Hunt sent a letter to members of the Conservative Friends of India, a group within the party, as well as a video message.
Seeking support from Indian-origin members of the Conservative party, Hunt recalled his five-month-long backpacking trip to India years ago. One of the memories of the visit, he recently revealed, was enjoying ‘bhang lassi’.
He said in the video message: “I want you to know that friendship between India and the United Kingdom will be one of my highest priorities as prime minister”.
“The great thing about this country is that we have such strong links all over the world but none is more important than India, the country that will soon have the largest population in the world is a beacon of tolerance and diversity across the world.”
Looking to the future, Hunt wrote in the letter: “I look forward to engaging with India to negotiate a free trade agreement following Britain’s exit from the European Union later this year. Given the closeness of the two countries, I hope and expect that we will be able to agree on this very soon”.
“As Prime Minister, I would look forward to working with Prime Minister Modi on his new agenda, especially in areas such as building climate resilience and improving ease of doing business. Under my leadership, Britain will continue to be a global, outward-looking, tolerant country,” he wrote.
Hunt noted that nearly 20,000 Indian students came to the UK last year, and the numbers were now over 70% higher compared to 2016. Skilled workers from India in 2018 increased at the fastest rate for any country: “We still issue more skilled work visas to Indians than to the rest of the world combined”.