The post-Brexit scenario is now unfolding in the UK. After the drama and the shock of the vote to leave EU, the process of withdrawal is now beginning to take shape, and with the UK Parliament having agreed that the legislative procedures required for leaving the EU can commence, a stepby-step progress to a new destiny for the UK, and also for EU, is now under way. Experts envisage the need for more than a decade of painstaking dismantling of the political and economic structures that bind the UK to its erstwhile partners in EU. Creating these structures in the first instance was a most challenging task and European integration required the longdrawn-out labours of a highly skilled, multi-national army of officials comprising the formidable EU bureaucracy; undoing what they had worked so hard to put together may prove a no less onerous task.
To make matters more difficult, this is no 'velvet divorce' in the making; EU does not seem inclined to make it easy for the UK by permitting a simplified exit, and on the contrary it may well be that every clause of the existing documents will come under scrutiny as multiple voices are raised in deciding what, and how much, is entailed in the smallest rescinding of earlier commitments. While this process endures, the great energies of Europe, historic fount of some of the most momentous initiatives and ideas, are likely to be directed inwards, to the detriment of the European role in the wider world.
There could be further complications as EU deals with proposals to preserve some of its features, such as the search for a common foreign policy. This particular quest never achieved as much as some of its advocates demanded: the EU flies a common flag in places like New Delhi but major entities like the UK, while part of the structure of a common EU foreign policy have simultaneously retained their individual international identities and diplomatic traditions.
Thus while overall foreign policy goals may be shared by the EU as a whole, differences between members could reemerge and a major development like the departure of the UK could affect the cohesion of the group. One outcome could be that more room would be left for country initiatives, against the earlier trend of greater policy coordination within EU.
It is notable that as circumstances change and its relationship with EU has perforce to take a different shape, the UK has become active in searching for alternative partners outside Europe and EU.
It has made a special effort to reach out to India, aiming to revive old associations that were once an important part of India's engagements abroad when all roads led through London. Nowadays that sense of closeness has given way to more critical evaluation of their respective interests but even so India continues to find it relatively straightforward to deal with the UK and it is no great struggle for the two countries to develop mutual understanding and cooperation on a wide range of issues. Economic relations tend to top the agenda at high-level meetings among leaders, and there is a healthy process of exchange between them. Thus when UK PM Theresa May came to Delhi a few weeks ago she was able to look at a satisfactory economic relationship that was set to grow steadily in years ahead, with ambitious targets for the future. The bilateral economic tie has always been strong and is not likely to be affected adversely by Brexit. A particular area of interest is Indian investment in the British economy, a relatively recent phenomenon, and several high profile deals over the last few years have established India as one of the important investors in the UK market: currently it is the third largest and the UK is the largest investor in India from the G-20.
This is therefore a time in India-UK ties when relations are proceeding steadily across the board; politically there are few unsettling problems, and economic exchanges are doing well. The issues that have recently drawn attention and agitate the media derive largely from efforts to tidy up the bilateral legacy, matters like ownership of the Kohinoor and other historical issues, which are of absorbing interest but cannot be regarded as the pivot of the relationship. UK is making a considerable effort to revive the special character of its ties with India, and it is not insignificant that Mrs. Theresa May chose India for her first official visit as Prime Minister. A useful outcome of her journey was the impetus it gave to revival of the regular exchange of students that has recently been under strain owing to the loss of privileged entry from which Indian students once benefited, so they now often go elsewhere. Mrs. May's visit should bring a new spirit to relations and help revive the strategic and security dialogue that has been in the doldrums for some time.
As for the impending elections, initial indications are that Mrs May's Conservative party will be returned with a good majority. The decision to dissolve and call for a general election thus seems, at this juncture, to be a sound one so far as the ruling party is concerned. Many political commentators seem to be of the view that the Leader of the UK Opposition Mr. Corbyn has not established himself as a potential leader of his country and will be hard pressed to mount a challenge to the present leadership.
For India, both sides can provide very suitable partners: if the Conservatives tighten the rules on immigration to India's disadvantage, they are also more business-friendly, and both they and Labour are equally open and responsive to India. The problems to be anticipated as the UK heads for the polls are not in the bilateral sphere so much as in the impact of developments elsewhere, especially in Europe. Brexit has opened up adverse possibilities that can affect the stability and progress of the UK itself.
The greatest uncertainty is attached to the integrity of the UK and the continuance in one political frame of its sundry components. Scotland's restiveness is well documented, and though they will no doubt reflect carefully before taking any irrevocable step, the Scots have their own aspirations that could shake the structure of the UK.
All this points to a period of uncertainty in the affairs of our ancient associate. The links between the two countries are extensive and cannot be easily set aside, and they still have much to gain from each other. As friend and well-wisher, India would certainly like to see the UK emerge from its current uncertainties and once more play the part of a strong and influential factor on the world stage.
The writer is India’s former Foreign Secretary.