Rishi Sunak's UK government is in talks with India over whether to increase the number of business visas granted to Indian nationals as part of a potential trade deal, a stance that risks causing friction in the new prime minster's top team.
Business visas remain an area of "active negotiation" in the discussions, Trade Minister Greg Hands told the House of Commons on Wednesday. He said talks are complete on the majority of the deal.
The government is trying to highlight the benefits of Brexit by adding to the new trade deals it's struck since leaving the European Union, and Hands said an agreement with India will give exporters greater access to a billion consumers. But loosening visa arrangements could also put Sunak -- the UK's first British prime minister of Indian-origin -- on a collision course with Home Secretary Suella Braverman, who recently expressed concerns about the arrangements.
Braverman, a hardline Brexiteer whose parents are also both of Indian origin, appeared to oppose a more generous visa policy in an interview with the Spectator earlier this month, saying: "I do have some reservations. Look at migration in this country -- the largest group of people who overstay are Indian migrants."
Sunak is already under pressure for appointing Braverman back to the post she quit just a week ago over a security breach that she herself acknowledged broke ministerial rules.
Braverman also told the Spectator that she had "concerns about having an open-borders migration policy with India because I don't think that's what people voted for with Brexit."
At the time, the British press reported that her comments provoked the ire of former prime minister Liz Truss, who had wanted a more flexible migration policy in her short-lived effort to boost growth.
But Hands suggested that increasing the number of temporary business visas for Indians was a separate issue to permanent migration. "In the area of trade, what we're talking about is mode four arrangements. These aren't immigration arrangements. These relate to business visas not for permanent settlement," he said.
Some 16 chapters across 26 policy areas have been agreed so far, according to Hands, who said talks will resume "shortly."
"We are working towards the best deal for both sides and won't sign until we have a deal that is fair, reciprocal and ultimately in the best interests of the British people and the UK economy," Hands said.