UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Tuesday cancelled a planned trip to India later this month, citing the need to oversee the pandemic response at home. Johnson was due to be a guest at India’s annual Republic Day celebrations on January 26, shortly after the UK left the European Union’s single market and as it seeks new trade deals around the world, particularly in fast-growing Asia.
“The prime minister spoke to Prime Minister Modi this morning, to express his regret that he will be unable to visit India later this month as planned,” a Downing Street spokeswoman said. “In light of the national lockdown announced last night, and the speed at which the new coronavirus variant is spreading, the prime minister said that it was important for him to remain in the UK so he can focus on the domestic response to the virus.”
His call with Modi came a day after he addressed Britain in a televised address to plunge the country into a new stay-at-home lockdown as his medical chiefs warned that the National Health Service (NHS) was under threat of being overwhelmed by the rising infection rates. Johnson has indicated that his India visit would take place during the first half of this year and before the G7 summit presided over by the UK, planned for later this year.
“The two leaders underlined their “shared commitment” to the bilateral relationship, and to continuing to build on the close collaboration between our countries including in response to the pandemic. The Prime Minister said that he hopes to be able to visit India in the first half of 2021, and ahead of the UK’s G7 Summit that Prime Minister Modi is due to attend as a guest,” the spokesperson said.
Last month, the British government had announced Johnson’s intention to visit India as part of efforts to speed up talks on trade, with Britain in search of new bilateral deals after leaving the European Union. But Britain’s COVID-19 crisis has since worsened with surging cases and hospital admissions at a new high, fuelled by the spread of a more transmissible variant of the virus.