Ahmedabad/New Delhi: British Prime Minister Boris Johnson arrived in Ahmedabad on Thursday as part of his two-day India trip and visited the famous Sabarmati Ashram and met industrialist Gautam Adani, a day before his formal talks with his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi on key international and bilateral issues in New Delhi.
Ahead of Johnson's visit, the British High Commission said the UK and Indian businesses will confirm more than one billion pounds ((1 GBP= Rs 99.63) in new investments and export deals in areas from software engineering to health, creating almost 11,000 jobs across the UK.
The British PM's engagements in Gujarat also included visits to a manufacturing facility of JCB, a British construction equipment firm in the Panchmahal district and the famous Akshardham temple of the Swaminarayan sect in Gandhinagar. On Friday, he is scheduled to hold talks with Modi.
When asked about India's position on Ukraine, Johnson said his country has already raised the Ukraine war issue with Modi at a diplomatic level, and added that everybody understands that India and Russia shared "very different relationships historically".
"Well, we have already raised the issue of Ukraine with Prime Minister Narendra Modi diplomatically. Actually, they (India) were very strong in condemnation of atrocities in Bucha (a city in Ukraine)," Johnson told reporters at an event to inaugurate a new JCB factory, to be set up at an investment of 100 million pounds (nearly Rs 995 crore),
"I think everybody understands that India and Russia have historically had very different relationships, like Russia and the UK had in the last couple of decades," Johnson further said while replying to a question about whether he will raise the issue of India's stand on Ukraine with Modi.
"We have to reflect that reality while talking about it (Ukraine) to Narendra Modi," he further said.
Johnson's visit to India comes at a time when India has taken a neutral stand on the Russian invasion of Ukraine, drawing sharp criticism from western countries, especially the US, which has accused India of not taking a clear stance against Russia.
The UK High Commission statement also said,"as he moves on to New Delhi on Friday, the prime minister will also use this week's visit to drive progress in negotiations on the landmark UK-India free trade agreement, which is expected to help double our trade and investment by 2030."
"Negotiating teams will hold their third round of formal talks in India next week," it said.
The high commission said work is already progressing on cutting red tape for businesses following the UK-India Enhanced Trade Partnership launched by both prime ministers last year.
The governments will announce new measures to make it easier to export UK-made medical devices to India that will support UK jobs and create opportunities for British med-tech companies like Redcar-based Micropore Technologies to sell their lifesaving products in India, an import market worth 2.4 billion pounds, it said.
Shortly before his India visit, the British PM said, "as I arrive in India today, I see vast possibilities for what our two great nations can achieve together. From next-generation 5G telecoms and AI to new partnerships in health research and renewable energy -- the UK and India are leading the world. Our powerhouse partnership is delivering jobs, growth and opportunities for our people, and it will only go from strength-to-strength in the coming years".
Johnson, who is the first British Prime Minister to visit Gujarat, was received at the Ahmedabad airport by state Chief Minister Bhupendra Patel and Governor Acharya Devvrat, and was accorded a grand welcome along the four-km route from the airport to a hotel in the city.
Johnson started his public engagements by visiting Sabarmati Ashram, the place from where Gandhi led India's struggle for freedom from the British colonial rule for more than a decade.
He hailed Mahatma Gandhi as an "extraordinary man" who mobilised the principles of truth and non-violence to change the world for the better.
"It is an immense privilege to come to the ashram of this extraordinary man, and to understand how he mobilized such simple principles of truth and non-violence to change the world for the better, Johnson wrote in the visitors' book at the Gandhi ashram.
He also held a meeting with industrialist Gautam Adani at the group's global headquarters at Shantigram on the outskirts of Ahmedabad city.
"Honoured to host @BorisJohnson, the first UK PM to visit Gujarat, at Adani HQ. Delighted to support climate & sustainability agenda with a focus on renewables, green H2 & new energy. Will also work with UK companies to co-create defence & aerospace technologies. #AtmanirbharBharat," Adani tweeted after the meeting.
The British PM also visited the campus of under-construction Gujarat Biotechnology University in Gandhinagar which is coming up in cooperation with the UK's University of Edinburgh.
Johnson has expressed his support for more skilled visas for Indians as part of the efforts to expedite the ambitious free trade agreement (FTA) being negotiated between the two countries.
Speaking to reporters from the UK on the prime ministerial flight to Ahmedabad on Wednesday night, Johnson acknowledged a massive shortage of experts in IT and programming sectors and said Britain needed "hundreds of thousands of workers with in-demand skills.
He was responding to questions around visas and free movement of people, which has been a key demand on the Indian side to clinch any FTA with the UK.
"I have always been in favour of having people coming into this country," Johnson was quoted as saying by The Independent' newspaper.
"We have a massive shortage in the UK, not least in experts in IT and programming. We are short to the tune of hundreds of thousands in our economy. We need to have a professional approach, but it has got to be controlled," he said.
According to the latest UK Home Office statistics, Indian professionals continue to account for the largest number of UK skilled work visas granted with 67,839 issued last year, which is 14 per cent higher than in 2019.