Talks between Johnson and Modi: Try Outs for Global Britain in London

In his collection of essays on the historical perspectives of the British Empire, The Expansion of England, 1881-1882, John Roberts Seeley wrote that London, in the long run, would have to forge a Greater Britain –  commercially, politically and culturally bonded to those colonies with which it had greater affinities and whose systems could be complementary to it. If we replace Global Britain with Greater Britain, and if we accentuate the economic and financial factors, the project reminds us of the post-Brexit idea for Great Britain supported by newly elected Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

Johnson, as Limes points out“took his place in Downing Street in order to steer Great Britain towards a Global Britain, the latest brand in Anglocentric ideology.” The main priorities of the project, which could considerably change London’s diplomatic, political and financial relations are: establishing an autonomous relation with global partners-rivals (such as China), strengthening its “special relation” with the United States, boosting relations with countries of the Anglosphere, (especially Canada, Australia and New Zealand) and the expansion of trading with former Commonwealth colonies, notably India, currently governed by an ambitious nationalist government headed by Narendra Modi.

On August 20th, the day on which Johnson was waiting for Brussels’ response to his Brexit proposal, Johnson and Modi had their first bilateral talk over the phone. “The issues addressed were the strengthening of the strategic partnership between India and Great Britain, the common fight against international terrorism, especially against the Islamic State, and last week’s incidents outside the Indian embassy in London, on the occasion of the celebrations for India’s independence on August 15,” wrote Agenzia Nova.

Johnson, while talking to his Indian counterpart, also broached the topic of the crisis in Kashmir, where riots broke out due to India’s revocation of the region’s special status, bringing the world’s second most populous nation to the brink of conflict with neighbouring Pakistan. According to London’s former mayor, only an honest and constructive bilateral discussion can resolve the issue and, given the need for a mediator between the two parties, it is not unlikely that Great Britain might act as go-between so that India and Pakistan can restore order in the contended land.

At the upcoming G7 in Biarritz, where Modi has been invited as a guest, the two leaders will have the opportunity to talk and to expand the bilateral relation between India and Great Britain. Johnson aspires to have New Delhi as economic, financial and political partner in the aftermath of Brexit and so, once again, the path of Global Britain seems headed towards India. Nonetheless with one variation, New Delhi’s modified strategic perception; India now sees itself as the main player in the Indian Ocean and in the South East Asia region where its influence exceeds that of Great Britain. London is banking on its financial power, on historically consolidated ties and on the relaunch of its military standing, with the return of its fleet East of Suez, proclaiming to the world the return of the British Isles on the world stage. Yet, Johnson’s Global Britain for now remains an empty container to be filled with agreements, partnerships, deals. Numerous analysts are skeptical regarding the Prime Minister’s project, as a recent analysis by Foreign Policy confirms, however Johnson successfully thwarted predictions more than once: in his run for mayor of London, in the campaign for the Brexit referendum and, last but not least, in the political debates within the Conservative Party, which appeared to have led to his isolation after his exit from Theresa May’s government. That of Global Britain could be his biggest challenge, because it will determine London’s strategic direction in the long term. And to start building it by restoring relations with India, the former colony that is now a power with global aspirations, could lead London to setting off on the right foot.