Second pandemic wave forces UK PM Johnson to cancel India visit

Speaks to PM Modi, will visit India once pandemic is under control

Second pandemic wave forces UK PM Johnson to cancel India visit

Boris Johnson. AP/PTI photo

Sandeep Dikshit

Tribune News Service

New Delhi, January 5

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson has cancelled his India visit that included being the Chief Guest at the Republic Day parade in order to oversee the pandemic response at home, said an announcement from Downing Street.

Johnson also called up PM Narendra Modi to regret his inability to attend in view of complete lockdown in his country and reiterated his keenness to visit India in the near future, according to an official news release here.

PM Modi expressed his understanding of the exceptional situation in the UK, and conveyed his best wishes for quick control of the pandemic. He looked forward to receiving Johnson in India at the earliest opportunity after normalisation of the situation, added the news release.

US President Donald Trump had declined PM Modi’s invite to be the Chief Guest at the 2019 Republic Day celebrations but made up for it by attending the ‘Namaste Trump’ rally in Ahmedabad. But, Trump had conveyed his regrets nearly three months in advance, giving South Block enough time to invite South African President Cyril Ramaphosa.

India had suffered a last-minute pull out in 2013 when the Sultan of a West Asian monarchy declined the invitation with just a month to go for the Republic Day. But the King of Bhutan Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck, who was the Chief Guest barely eight years back, graciously stepped in.

PM Modi had converted the guest list at Republic Day parades from a statement of intent regarding the foreign policy into an event that appeared to suggest India’s coming out party. The first two parades during his tenure continued with the tradition of inviting India’s close allies. But in 2017 there were seven chief guests and 10 in 2018. Last year, plans to continue with the multi-person format did not work out, and South Block invited the Brazilian President.

Johnson announced the pull out on a day his Foreign Office announced the filling up of the vacant High Commissioner’s slot here with Deputy National Security Adviser Alex Ellis.

The previous incumbent Philip Barton is now the Permanent Under-Secretary of the Foreign Office. Ellis takes over at a time when Britain is eyeing a major defence deal; its previous mega order of advanced jet trainers to the Indian Air Force having run its course. He has served as the British Ambassador to Brazil and Portugal.

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