Britain to continue trade talks with India despite 'serious allegations'

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LONDON :Britain will continue trade talks with India despite allegations from Canada that the Indian government was involved in the murder of a Sikh separatist leader on its soil, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s spokesperson said on Tuesday.

Britain was in touch with Canada about the “serious allegations” but said it would not have an impact on trade talks with India, the spokesperson said.

Sunak is hoping to finalise a free trade deal with India as Britain looks to establish its credentials as an independent trading nation after leaving the European Union.

Both sides have hinted at progress in recent months after a slow start to talks, raising hopes a deal could be completed ahead of elections due in both countries next year.

“Work on the trade negotiations will continue as before. The Canadian authorities will now conduct their work and I’m not going to preempt them,” the spokesperson told reporters.

“When we have concerns about countries we are negotiating trade deals with, we will raise them directly with the government concerned. But with regards to the current negotiations with India, these are negotiations about a trade deal, and we’re not looking to conflate them with other issues.”

Canada said on Monday it was “actively pursuing credible allegations” that linked Indian government agents to Hardeep Singh Nijjar’s murder in British Columbia in June.

India dismissed the accusation as “absurd and motivated” and urged Canada instead to take legal action against anti-Indian elements operating from its soil.

Canada expelled India’s top intelligence agent in the country, while New Delhi expelled a Canadian diplomat.

Asked if the British government planned to raise Canada’s allegations with the Indian government, Sunak’s spokesperson said he would not get into what he called private discussions.

He also added that there were currently no plans to review the causes of death of Avtar Singh Khanda, who had also campaigned for a separate Sikh state in India from his home in England.

Khanda died in a hospital in the English city of Birmingham in June after contracting a sudden illness. After a review, local police concluded there were no suspicious circumstances.

India complained to the British government earlier this year after Sikh separatists – who seek an independent Sikh homeland called Khalistan – detached the Indian flag from the country’s high commission in central London.

(Additional reporting by Sachin Ravikumar; Editing by Kate Holton and Christina Fincher)