LONDON: Conservative party leadership contender Liz Truss pitched herself as pro-business to the Indian community at the Conservative Friends of India first hustings on Wednesday night when she pledged to deepen ties with India on the defence, trade and people-to-people fronts and said if made UK prime minister she would want to visit India frequently.
Truss, who is competing with Indian-origin Rishi Sunak to become Boris Johnson’s successor, told members she was “very, very committed” to the UK-India relationship. “I want to get this trade deal done, preferably by Diwali, but definitely by the end of the year, and I want to make sure that the trade deal is as deep as possible covering everything from life sciences to technology to agriculture,” she said.
“There is no doubt in my mind that many of the best and brightest in the world are in India. I will continue to look at our visa system to make sure it attracts those people,” she added.
She said the UK had a real opportunity to strengthen its defence and security relationship with India. “India is currently 60% dependent on Russian weapons but obviously they are now concerned about Russia’s strategic relationship with China and also the efficacy of some of those weapons, so there is a real opportunity for closer partnership,” she said.
And she reiterated her campaign pledges to reduce UK taxes and national insurance and keep corporation tax low.
“I know this is something the Conservative party and Indian community share — a belief in hard work, in the value of setting up your own business, and in playing by the rules,” she told members.
Truss also said she wanted the UK and India to work together to give finance to developing countries to prevent them becoming saddled with debts to China.
The G7 has ploughed $600 billion into an alternative fund to the Belt and Road Initiative. “It offers honest and reliable investment so countries like Barbados don’t feel obliged to to go to China. I have been in discussions with the Indian government on funding joint India-UK projects into, for example, East Africa. All of the free world, including India and the UK, need to step up to make sure that countries do not end up in debt to authoritarian regimes like China,” she said, pledging to increase UK defence spending and saying “we see an increasingly assertive China”.
Conservative Friends of India’s session with Rishi Sunak will take place on August 22.