The thorny issue of immigration may come between a trade deal between the UK and India.
In the days after the EU referendum, Naushad Forbes, president of the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII), said that he thought it would now be much easier to agree a trade deal with the UK. He said: “It would be an agreement that would be almost made in heaven.”
So now it comes to the test. Theresa May is in India, can she agree this deal made in heaven? It is something of a litmus test. Considering how keen India is to trade with the UK, this should be the easy one.
There are hurdles.
For one thing, what kind of deal can she agree with India involving services, in particular, financial services?
But now the issue of immigration has emerged.
In a recent speech, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said: “Education is vital for our students and will define our engagement in a shared future. We must therefore encourage greater mobility and participation of young people in education and research opportunities.”
It all boils down to education. Mrs May wants to limit the number of students from abroad entering non-Russell Group universities. In short, the UK welcomes foreign students who appear to be especially bright, but not the rest.
Mrs May responded to the Modi comments saying: “The figures show that we issue more work visas to India than I think US, Australia and China put together. Nine out of 10 visa applications from India are already accepted. We have, I believe, a good system.”
In short, the lady is not for turning.
More to the point, the anti-immigration agenda that has seized the public consciousness won’t consider, not for one moment, relaxing immigration rules, regardless of the power of the economic argument.
Will Modi stand his ground? It is hard to think of a moment in which the UK was in a weaker negotiating position.
Or will the anti-immigration lobby, egged on by a media that will not broker any dissenting view – indeed it would seem to suggest that those who do not sign up to the keep migrants out discourse are enemies of the people – win the day?