Calling India "one of (the) most important partners", United Kingdom's High Commissioner Alex Ellis has said that this is a "moment to transform our relationship".
His comments come ahead of India-UK virtual summit led by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on May 04.
Speaking exclusively to WION's Sidhant Sibal, HC Ellis highlighted the British assistance to India as it battles the COVID pandemic. "UK has worked with the utmost urgency and speed to support our friends in India", pointing to the "incredible level of support from the wider British public and industry."
On April 27, UK became the first country to send anti-Covid assistance to New Delhi. Assistance includes oxygen concentrators, ventilators. London has also announced it will also provide three oxygen generation units, each producing 500 litres of oxygen per minute.
Previous to the current position, HC Ellis has been the Deputy National Security Adviser for the Integrated Review on diplomacy, development and defence.
WION: The UK was the first country to send assistance to India to deal with the Covid pandemic. A lot of solidarity was seen in the UK for India, from the top leadership as well as the people. If u can give some detail on the assistance?
Alex Ellis: Across government, the UK has worked with the utmost urgency and speed to support our friends in India, to help relieve the phenomenal pressure the country’s healthcare system is under. The Prime Minister himself made a pledge to do all we can to help.
The UK has announced the delivery of vital medical equipment to assist India in its fight against COVID-19. This includes 1,200 ventilators, 495 oxygen concentrators, and three oxygen generation units. The first shipment arrived early on April 27, and that equipment is already being distributed to Indian hospitals. There have been further shipments this week, and more still to come.
I am also delighted to see the incredible level of support from the wider British public and industry. From His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales to the diaspora and student communities, everyone is doing their bit to help. Businesses have also mobilised and are working directly with the Indian High Commission in London. The British Asian Trust, for example, has raised over £1.25 million through their emergency appeal. The living bridge we share is truly amazing.
WION: How helpful do you see your assistance will be for India?
Alex Ellis: As the Prime Minister has said, "we stand side-by-side with India as a friend and partner during what is a deeply concerning time in the fight against COVID-19". Our health secretaries, foreign ministers, and a range of experts from various fields are in regular contact and we will continue working closely with the Government of India to identify the right kind of assistance we can provide. Oxygen is obviously one of the main needs at this time, which is why we announced further support with the three oxygen generation units. These oxygen units are the size of shipping containers — each capable of producing 500 litres of oxygen per minute, enough for 50 people to use at a time.
WION: What kind of anti-covid cooperation we can expect between the two, especially on vaccines?
Alex Ellis: The importance of our collaboration on researching, developing, and manufacturing a Covid vaccine cannot be understated. The Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine was developed with unprecedented speed and made available ‘at cost’ to Serum Institute of India, the world’s largest vaccine manufacturer. This is already a scientific achievement of historic proportions.
The UK is India’s biggest European research partner, and second-biggest globally, with £400 million joint investment in research and innovation collaboration since 2008. Over 20 per cent of UK research and innovation’s partnership with India is health and wellbeing focused. Through the WHO, the UK is providing technical assistance to bolster the Integrated Health Information Platforms in 20 Indian states; through the International Finance Corporation, we are supporting the establishment a COVID-19 diagnostic network covering 70 million people in Madhya Pradesh. We also have regular channels of communication between scientists and health policy experts in the UK and India on the genomic sequencing of virus variants, informing both sides' understanding of how the virus behaves and how it can be treated.
WION: How will you characterise the relationship between India and the post-Brexit UK, with Indo pacific tilt? How vital New Delhi is for London?
Alex Ellis: India is one of our most important partners. There is a high degree of convergence between the UK’s integrated review and India’s priorities for a free, open, and inclusive Indo-Pacific, anchored by democratic values. As we embark on an intensive period of international leadership — the UK as Presidency of the G7 and COP26, and India on the UN Security Council, as BRICS President and G20 President in 2023 — this is a moment to transform our relationship, address challenges to our security in both the physical and digital worlds, respond to the economic and health impacts of COVID-19 and lay the foundations for a secure and prosperous decade ahead.
WION: Boris Johnson is very keen to visit India but the visit got postponed due to Covid crisis. When can he be expected now, since the virtual summit has been announced?
Alex Ellis: The Prime Minister remains keen to return to India as soon as he is able but obviously paramount at this time for both governments is ensuring the safety and wellbeing of our people. Both our Prime Ministers remain committed to setting out the next decade of the UK-India success story and we expect to see these conversations taking place very soon.