A last-minute intervention by External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj was responsible for ensuring that Prime Minister Narendra Modi did not sign a key agreement on taking back illegal immigrants when he visited the U.K. in April, senior officials in New Delhi and London confirmed.
The decision by the government to pull out of the agreement just three months after Minister of State for Home Kiren Rijiju had signed a memorandum of understanding on the return of illegal immigrants has led to growing tensions between Britain and India. The pending issue was raised by U.K. officials during the Home Affairs dialogue last month, said a statement by the British High Commission, and was also raised by visiting British Minister Susan Williams when she met Mr. Rijiju in Delhi on Monday.
“On May 30, U.K. and Indian government officials held constructive talks on a range of home affairs issues, including returns. We continue to discuss finalising an MoU on returns and hope that this will be ratified and implemented as soon as possible,” the British High Commission spokesperson said in reply to a specific query from The Hindu , adding that the agreement would “pave the way for a quicker and more efficient process for documenting and returning Indian nationals who are in the U.K. illegally”.
A senior government official said the MoU was signed in January by Mr. Rijiju after due approval from the Union Cabinet and going back on the “sovereign assurance” had put India in an embarrassing position. Ahead of Mr. Modi’s visit to the U.K. (April 17-20), an External Affairs Ministry official briefing journalists had flagged the returns agreements as a key outcome. However on April 18, the agreement was not among the 25 MoUs and agreements signed after the meeting between Mr. Modi and his counterpart Theresa May.
The official said the agreement was pulled from the list because Ms. Swaraj had reservations about a key provision in the pact that gave Indian agencies around 15 days to verify the antecedents of an illegal immigrant. “The 15-day duration was for those Indians who had been caught living illegally in the U.K. but were in possession of valid documents. So the 15-day limit was to verify their credentials. This was not agreed to by the Foreign Minister,” said another official. A senior MEA official said the government decided to take a fresh look as the National Security Adviser’s office conveyed to the MEA that the 15-day limit was “unworkable” for security officials.
“The Indian High Commission had sent a file with suggestions that we only sign with the U.K. if they give us concessions on visas for professionals and extensions which the Chinese get. Ms. Swaraj then ordered that the agreement be renegotiated if necessary,” said the official.