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The UK & EU at the G20: What role is there, post Brexit, for the UK in the European community’s engagement with India?

Article by Anna Chernova

September 8, 2023

The UK & EU at the G20: What role is there, post Brexit, for the UK in the European community’s engagement with India?

The upcoming G20 meeting serves to highlight the ongoing lack of clarity around the UK’s policy coordination with the European Union (EU) block. The UK’s Integrated Review, published in 2021, set out a strategic geographical focus on Asia, while keeping an eye on Russia as a key threat to European and global security.[1] In a post-Brexit context, an Asia tilt without deep and comprehensive coordination with the EU could however risk further undermining values-based foreign policy on the continent.[2]


The neoliberal and geopolitical nature of EU and UK approaches to India trade relations risks weakening public confidence in the primacy of human rights and the “shared values” of democracy in international relations.[3] On the margins of the G20, India plans to hold critical trade talks with the EU and the UK[4] – but will the G20 civil society be allowed to meaningfully engage in a state where civic space is so repressed?[5]


In the wider European community, the UK’s relationship with India had contributed through a long, at times conflicted historical track record of societal, cultural, political and economic links. Since Brexit, other multilateral spaces such as the G7+, G20 and others have become increasingly important. As Russia’s threat to global human security escalates, are the EU and the UK compromising too much?[6] Is there too much focus on friendly ties with a regional hegemon, turning a blind eye to shared values of rule of law and democracy? Where does the focus on trade leave sustainable development objectives?[7] Would weak cooperation with the EU on India undermine future UK-EU relations?[8]


Post-Brexit, the UK is left in a vulnerable negotiating position in terms of strategic trade deals with larger, more powerful states. India now numbers among them. Without close collaboration between the EU and the UK toward a values-based foreign policy approach across geopolitical challenges, the UK risks undermining its own national interest through free trade agreements that could harm labour rights, gender justice, the environment, public health[9] – including the NHS, due diligence across Indian-UK supply chains and wider good standing of EU and UK as champions of human security globally.[10] The EU block is India’s third largest trading partner.[11] The UK has championed inclusion of India in expanded G7 conversations, while too often remaining silent on the domestic good governance context.


Both EU and UK have perhaps too often muted their criticism of human rights, civic space, and the business and human rights agenda in India.[12] Many continue to call India the ‘world’s largest democracy,’ however this status needs to be carefully considered – including during the G20. As BRICS+ configurations and United Nations votes hang in the balance, at a critical time for global security, are the UK and EU missing an opportunity to collaboratively and transparently uphold values-based alliances in multilateral spaces like the G20?[13]


In today’s context, are there perhaps additional expectations on the UK in the wider European and G20 community to ensure democracy forms a part of its geopolitical engagement with India?[14] Are the EU and UK duty bound to their domestic constituencies to challenge G20 hosts for their rights abuses and democratic backsliding? Or is the G20 process more about “cosy” trade relations among elites, designed to obfuscate domestic good governance challenges? Do these types of trade negotiations represent a race to the bottom, with G20 gatherings simply providing another forum for these elite bargains?


The regional significance of India in Asia and the diplomatic push to compromise on rights in favour of holding Russia collectively to account for its invasion of Ukraine, cannot come at a cost to the human security commitments the EU and the UK have come to champion globally. The EU and UK must work together toward shared values, not separately toward neoliberal, elite bargains through secretive trade deals and geopolitical manoeuvring on the margins of the G20.


Anna Chernova is a Senior Research Fellow at the Foreign Policy Centre.


[1] Cabinet Officer, Global Britain in a Competitive Age: the Integrated Review of Security, Defence, Development and Foreign Policy, March 2021 (updated July 2021),

[2] Charley Coleman, UK and India collaboration: Roadmap to 2030, House of Lords, January 2023,

[3] Prime Minister’s Office, 10 Downing Street and The Rt Hon Rishi Sunak MP, PM meeting with Indian Prime Minister Modi,, November 2022,

[4] Reuters, India plans to hold FTA talks with UK, EU, Canada on G20 sidelines – trade secrecy, August 2023,

[5] Civicus Monitor, Tracking Civic Space, India:

[6] Lora Verheecke, EU-India Trade Deal: Business as usual?, Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung, Febuary 2023

[7] Trade Justice Movement, UK-India Trade deal,

[8] Matthew Lynn, A trade deal with India would destroy forever the case for rejoining the EU, Telegraph, August 2023

[9] Kiran Stacey, A UK trade deal with India was promised by last October. Why is it still not ready?, The Guardian, September 2023,; House of Commons, International Trade Committee, UK trade negotiations: Agreement with India, April 2023,

[10] Global Justice Now, Leaked UK-India Free Trade Agreement text threatens NHS, campaigners warn, November 2022,; George Holt, Sustainable trade should be at the heart of India’s G20 presidency, Bond, December 2022,

[11] European Commission, EU-India Free Trade Agreement,

[12] Meenakshi Ganguly and John Sifton, G20: India has work to do on key human rights issues, Human Rights Watch, September 2023,; Civicus: India: ahead of the G20 summit, human rights defenders face raids, arrests and detentions, while impunity persists in Manipur, August 2023,

[13] Dr Gareth Price, Ukraine war: why India abstained on UN vote against Russia, Chatham House, March 2023,

[14] Toby Helm and Amrit Dhillon, Rishi Sunak faces fresh conflict of interest row over India trade talks, The Guardian, August 2023,

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