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Theresa May to bring up 'identify & repatriate' policy on India visit

Shyam Bhatia | Updated on: 31 October 2016, 12:39 IST

When Theresa May visits India in early November, she will have a difficult job in hand. She will have to explain to her Indian hosts how her government plans to identify and repatriate an estimated 20,000-100,000 Indian nationals who have over-stayed their visas and are now illegally in the UK.

May has forged her formidable reputation as an uncompromising operator when it comes to tackling difficult and delicate political issues. Migration, whether from Eastern Europe or South Asia, is the number one political issue in Britain today.

When she was Home Secretary, May was responsible for the widely-condemned use of mobile billboards, mounted on vans, that urged illegal immigrants to "go home" or face arrest. Whether such a scheme will be re-introduced remains to be seen.

Identify and repatriate

One alternative is the possible use of biometric technology to speed up the process of checking illegal migrants before sending them back to their home countries. For the past several years long-term visitors to the UK have been required to submit themselves to biometric appointments, where their eyes are scanned for identity purposes. It is understood that this represents a database that could be of use in the future.

Mind you, migration will be only one of the many issues that will come up for discussion during May's visit that also includes a stopover in Bangalore as part of her first bilateral overseas trip.

Her predecessor David Cameron made two successful trips to India while he was prime minister. But those hosting May's trip could be in for a shock.

While Cameron focused on promoting Britain as the leading destination for India's brightest university students and also sought to strengthen defence ties, May has no such plans.

Change of plans

So what are her plans ? Apart from migration, the agenda is almost exclusively dedicated to furthering trade links between the two countries.

Whether this involves encouraging more Indian companies like Tata to invest in post-Brexit Britain, or smoothing the way for British companies to sell more of their products to India, is something that the UK's International Trade Secretary and leading Brexiter Dr Liam Fox will be spending hours on preparing.

Whitehall sources indicate that India is crucial to the British economy as the UK navigates the now "choppy waters" associated with leading the European Union.

Senior civil servants in London repeatedly allude to India as the world's fastest growing economy and, if stronger trade links are not forged a fragile British economy could stutter.

No doubt the British delegation will be all too keen to point out that the 20% fall in the value of the Pound since June represents excellent value for both foreign investment and British exports.

Luxury British brands, whether Burberry coats or Range Rover cars, are now all that much cheaper for Indian buyers.

Middle-class Indian tourists who used to flock to Marks and Spencer are suddenly being seen in large numbers in exclusive department stores like Harvey Nichols and Harrods.

Shortly before Diwali, one influential British economist said that for Indians, London is now in effect on a permanent "January sale". Suddenly, Britain is good value.

Edited by Jhinuk Sen

First published: 31 October 2016, 12:39 IST