India-UK FTA deal: Rishi Sunak faces conflict of interest over wife Akshata Murthy’s Infosys shares, say reports

British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak is facing a new conflict of interest, days before he is all set to attend the G20 summit in New Delhi in September. The conflict relates to transparency questions related to wife Akshata Murthy’s Infosys shares – massive Bengaluru-based international IT services and consultancy company, worth an estimated 500 million pounds, in a proposed free trade agreement (FTA) with India, reported The Guardian.

According to the report, Labour, and the chair of the all-party House of Commons business and trade select committee on 26 August called for Sunak to be more open about his wife’s financial interests, citing Infosys could be a key beneficiary of any agreement signed with India.

The Labour chair of the business and trade select committee — Darren Johns — even suggested the British PM to recuse himself from the trade negotiations altogether.

ALSO READ: Rishi Sunak running a ‘zombie parliament’, UK MP in resignation letter

“As the prime minister recently learned, it’s important he declares any interests properly. I expect him to do so in respect of the India trade deal too,” The Guardian quoted Jones as saying.

This new development arrives after former culture secretary Nadine Dorries – also a vocal critic of Sunak – finally handed in her resignation as an MP.

Sunak, who is all set to attend the G20 Summit in Delhi in September, is expected to discuss the UK-India trade negotiations in a separate bilateral meeting with his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi.

After holding intensive talks on the prospective deal – FTA, Trade Secretary Kemi Badenoch flew back from India this weekend.

The UK parliamentary watchdog released its report into an inquiry earlier this week concluding that Sunak had inadvertently failed to correctly declare his wife’s shares in childminding firm Koru Kids that stood to benefit from the government’s budget policy.

Following this, Sunak apologized for the ‘inadvertent’ breach that arose ‘out of confusion’, and after this, only the matter was closed.

Sunak’s enormous wealth:

According to the ‘Observer’ report, Akshata’s father Narayana Murthy’s firm Infosys is known to want to improve access to the UK for its thousands of contract workers through changes to the visa regime.

It is to be known that a vast majority of Akshata Murthy and Sunak’s enormous wealth comes from Infosys, her family’s tech company, which was valued at about $63bn (£50bn) in May.

As per the report, the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) has warned the Business and Trade Select Committee against conducting a trip to India in the coming months to examine issues around a potential deal.

“The committee was advised by the government that it would be better to visit India next year instead of during sensitive trade negotiations,” committee chair Jones told the newspaper.

Transparency required:

On the other side, Shadow trade secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds made it clear that his party backed a trade deal with India, Sunak must be “transparent about any relevant business links and his role in, however, is important that Sunak is “transparent about any relevant business links and his role in negotiations”.

Even a professor of economics at the London School of Economics — Alan Manning hinted that India will naturally be looking for opportunities to grow them in their trade deals as the software services are one of India’s biggest export sectors.

“As the Prime Minister’s family may have a direct financial interest in any deal on immigration, he should recuse himself from this part of the negotiations to avoid any perception of conflict of interest,” said Manning.

India-UK FTA deal:  

Meanwhile, The Sunday Times reported if the UK is prepared to slash its workers’ tax to clinch an FTA, India may agree to cut tariffs on Scotch whisky and British cars and parts by at least a third.

Reports say India is eager to sign a social security agreement with the UK — similar to deals it has signed with countries, including Canada, Australia, and France — which will exempt Indian workers from social security contributions if they continue to make payments in India.

“The social security agreement is a very important thing for us. It creates a lot of ill will if folks have to surrender a significant amount of their savings,” the newspaper quoted.

This week UK Business and Trade Secretary Kemi Badenoch held bilateral talks with her counterpart, Piyush Goyal, in India during a visit for a G20 trade meet. Goyal, while speaking to the press said that they discussed ways to ‘add further momentum’ to the India-UK FTA negotiations for a ‘mutually beneficial deal’.

With agency inputs.

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Updated: 27 Aug 2023, 04:37 PM IST

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