Believe it or not! India plays an important role in Britain’s possible exit from the European Union (EU).

All the eminent personalities supporting Brexit, including London Mayor Boris Johnson, British Independence Party leader Nigel Farage, former Defence Secretary Liam Fox, Employment Minister Priti Patel and former England all-rounder Ian Botham, have asked India to justify its stand on Brexit, as they know that prospects of their better ‘post-EU’ life will depend on Britain’s trade ties with the South Asian nation and other non-EU countries.

With Britain heading towards June 23 EU referendum, London’s better trade ties with New Delhi has emerged as one of the major justifications for supporters of the Brexit camp to leave the 28-member European bloc. They argued that it is evident from India’s long-drawn trade negotiations with the EU that it is difficult to stay together with a ‘problematic’ bloc. They also argued that Britain’s exit from the EU would make it easier for London to strike a trade deal with New Delhi.

The Brexit camp has decided to take all the necessary steps to double the volume of Britain’s existing bilateral trade with India. As the two countries missed the bilateral trade target of GBP 24 billion in 2015, it has become crucial for Britons to know about India’s future plans to boost trade ties with the UK.

The referendum will be close, as the momentum is currently in favour of Brexit. And the scenario has prompted ‘Brexiters’ to prepare their game-plan for the future. They are stressing on Britain’s ‘good’ ties with the ‘Anglo-sphere’ that includes India, the Commonwealth and other English-speaking countries. During his recent visit to London, American President Barrack Obama urged Britons to vote to stay in the EU. However, it is difficult to predict whether Britons will accept Obama’s advice.

Meanwhile, Employment Minister Patel is confident that India will definitely strengthen trade ties with Britain, if Britons leave the EU. She recently told an Indian national daily: “Voting to leave the EU would be a massive boost to UK-India relations. New opportunities for the UK and India to co-operate more closely and develop stronger trading links would emerge as the UK re-aligns its foreign policy and trade priorities.”

During his visit to London in November, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi articulated New Delhi’s position on the June 23 referendum, saying: “As far as India is concerned, if there is an entry point for us to the EU that is the UK, that is Great Britain”. However, the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI), an association of business organisations in India, has a different view. The business chamber admitted that it would have to change its policy in case Britain leaves the EU. In a statement issued in February, FICCI said that Britain could “create considerable uncertainty for more than 800 Indian companies, who use London as a base to access the European market, by leaving the EU”. In such a scenario, the business chamber plans to set up its bases in Frankfurt and Luxembourg to operate in the European market.

FICCI stressed: “While deciding on membership of the EU is a sovereign matter for Britain and its people, Indian industry is of the view that foreign businesses cannot remain isolated from such decisions. The UK is a valued economic partner for India and we firmly believe that leaving the EU would create considerable uncertainty for Indian businesses engaged with the UK and would possibly have an adverse impact on investment and movement of professionals to the UK.”

However, financial experts in India and Britain are of the opinion that Brexit will ultimately help the two countries strengthen their trade ties and emerge as each other’s valuable trade partner.

Koushik Das, based in the Indian capital of New Delhi, is a senior news editor with more than 15 years of experience. He also runs a blog - Boundless Ocean of Politics. E-Mail: [email protected]