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India invites UK’s Johnson as 2021 Republic Day chief guest

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is expected to be the chief guest at India’s 2021 Republic Day celebrations. Should Johnson accept the invitation, it will be the fifth time that a leader from Britain will be the chief guest at the Republic Day event, which is considered an honour reserved for countries with which India enjoys very close ties or those that it considers a strategic partner.

Then-Prime Minister John Major was the chief guest at the event in 1993, the last time India had invited a dignitary from the UK.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi extended the invitation to Johnson during a phone conversation on 27 November, according to a person familiar with the development.

India and the UK are looking to recast bilateral ties given Britain’s exit from the European Union (EU) next year. The UK is seeking a trade and investment agreement with India that would help it forge an economic partnership with Asia’s third-largest economy and cushion it from the seemingly inevitable prospect of a hard “Brexit" or severance of ties from the EU. The EU now accounts for 47% of UK’s total trade.

Johnson in his previous avatar as British foreign secretary in the government led by then British Prime Minister Theresa May had campaigned hard for an India-UK trade deal that would be ready for signature with the UK’s exit from the EU. With India sitting out of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership that clubs together the 10 South-East Asian Nations with China, Japan, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand, analysts in India have argued for pacts with groupings such as the EU and Britain.

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