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London Eye: Boris Johnson turns up looking over his shoulder

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London Eye: Boris Johnson turns up looking over his shoulder

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Boris Johnson's planned visits to India remain jinxed one way or another. After two cancelled visits, this is the third time lucky but only to the extent that this time a visit is in fact taking place. But, in fact, Boris Johnson must wish it is not, not at this time. It won’t be quite the show in Ahmedabad as intended if he is looking back over his shoulder to the vote in Parliament.

If individuals were to carry rear-view mirrors as do cars, surely British Prime Minister Boris Johnson would be carrying one on his visit to India. The day he is visiting Ahmedabad, Parliament is debating a motion on whether to refer him to a privileges committee of parliament over allegations of misleading the House over Partygate.
The Conservative Party whips have been cracking their whips quite seriously to get MPs to attend and to then vote the way Johnson would like the vote to go. That it well might. But this is a time when the PM would have wanted to be present for some last-minute haranguing, and more vitally, to deal with any last-minute plotting. In this business, at a time like this, a Prime Minister can trust no one.
Boris Johnson's planned visits to India remain jinxed one way or another. After two cancelled visits, this is the third time lucky but only to the extent that this time a visit is in fact taking place. But, in fact, Boris Johnson must wish it is not, not at this time. It won’t be quite the show in Ahmedabad as intended if he is looking back over his shoulder to the vote in Parliament.
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Past the Thursday vote, it still won’t be quite as confident as planned moving on to New Delhi for the officially bilateral part of the visit on Friday. Surviving the Thursday vote will not necessarily mean survival as PM. Police investigations are continuing into the breach of lockdown rules at 10 Downing Street. Further fines are expected; Johnson has already paid one, 50 pounds, but making him the first serving prime minister found to have broken the law, and penalised for it. Local elections and a by-election are around the corner. If the voter boots the Tories, Johnson will be in far more serious trouble.
There’s nothing Boris Johnson likes more, or is better at, than a swaggering style that stops just short of arrogance. His shaky position will simply not allow him that in India, though he will no doubt put up a convincing front. His plan is for the India trip to deliver to him a success that he can summon to calm the unrest back home within his party.
Trade Deal
This is a time like no other when Boris Johnson would like to return with a juicy trade deal with India in the bag. That has been promised since the early days of campaigning for Brexit. He has found some success with political optics through a visit to Kyiv. Now New Delhi presents his next big chance for delivering for Britain.
Except that any such early delivery looks unlikely. Talks are on to secure a trade deal between India and Britain. These are scheduled to continue at least until the end of the year. There can be no trade deal agreed this week. At best some limited agreement seems likely I’m a few basics. But to Johnson this is not about a deal at the moment, it’s about announcing something. That may be a fraction of a deal, but Johnson is clutching at fractions to save himself from the position of ex-prime minister.
The Downing Street parties are over; Partygate is not. He arrives in India leaving all the new parliamentary furore over those parties behind, but not quite able to put it all behind as fast, and as finally, as he would like. This is now an opportunity, and a timely one, to show he is getting on with the big things, past all that little stuff about attending some lockdown parties.
Whisky
Not so little as some see it. But perhaps India is not quite as big as he would like it to be. His taste for success, and his test for success, is one he has set out for himself, and repeatedly. Scotch whisky. Will India lower tariffs, or eliminate them even, as Boris Johnson has been demanding in speech after speech, even at a speech in a gurdwara. It’s hard to think of anything made in England that India cannot buy better and cheaper elsewhere. But this one made in Scotland is the big one. Will Boris Johnson return with a deal on Scotch whisky?
The signs are he will not. Not immediately anyhow. Senior officials engaged in the trade talks suggest that 26 areas have been identified where officials from the two sides will seek agreement. Of these, the agreement has been reached in only four areas so far, relatively minor and obvious goods and services. But Scotch whisky is not among these, and is not expected to become quite the sale the British want, short of any dramatic turnaround by the Indian government.
Boris Johnson is likely to have better luck with the announcement of new investments from India, and of that, there is a good deal already. He needs that kind of announcement for Britain, and for his own future. Of that, an early indication may come in the local council elections due May 5. The question for Boris Johnson is whether he can now get a kickstart to a political comeback, or a kicking in the elections.
— London Eye is a weekly column by CNBC-TV18’s Sanjay Suri, which gives a peek at business-as-unusual from London and around.
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