The UK chancellor Rishi Sunak is facing a fresh conflict of interest row over the proposed trade deal with India, as his wife Akshata Murthy has a significant stake in Infosys, an Indian IT giant that could benefit from the agreement.
Infosys, co-founded by Murthy’s father NR Narayana Murthy, is one of the largest investors and employers in the UK’s technology sector. It has been lobbying for more visas for its skilled workers to work in the UK, as part of the trade negotiations between the two countries.
According to a report by The Guardian1, India is asking for lower tariffs on its exports to the UK, such as Scotch whisky and cars, in exchange for more visas for its workers, especially in the IT sector. India also wants better access for its young people to the UK.
However, this could pose a problem for Sunak, who is married to Murthy, a billionaire businesswoman and fashion designer. Murthy owns a 0.93% stake in Infosys, worth £481.2m, which accounts for most of the couple’s wealth.
Sunak has not declared his wife’s stake in Infosys in the register of ministers’ interests, as he is not legally required to do so. However, some critics have argued that he should have done so on ethical grounds, as it could influence his decisions on the trade deal.
Sunak denies any wrongdoing or influence
Sunak has denied any wrongdoing or influence from his wife’s business interests on his role as chancellor. A spokesperson for Sunak said: “The chancellor has no involvement in or influence over the UK-India trade deal. He has followed the ministerial code to the letter in his declaration of interests.”
The spokesperson also said that Sunak had recused himself from a decision on a £900m loan scheme for start-ups last year, because Infosys was one of the applicants. The loan was eventually approved by the business department.
Sunak is not the only cabinet minister with links to India. The home secretary Priti Patel and the international trade secretary Liz Truss have both visited India recently to discuss trade and security issues. Patel’s parents are from Gujarat, while Truss has described herself as a “self-confessed Indophile”.
Trade deal with India seen as crucial for post-Brexit Britain
The trade deal with India is seen as crucial for post-Brexit Britain, as it seeks to boost its ties with the world’s fifth-largest economy and a key strategic partner in Asia. The two countries have set an ambitious target of doubling their bilateral trade by 2030, from £23bn in 2019.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson was due to visit India in April this year, but had to cancel due to the Covid-19 pandemic. He is expected to reschedule his trip later this year, when he hopes to announce the outline of the trade deal.
However, the deal could face several hurdles, such as human rights concerns, agricultural subsidies, data protection and market access. The UK also has to balance its relations with India and China, which are locked in a border dispute and a geopolitical rivalry.
The trade deal could also have implications for the UK’s immigration policy, as it could lead to an increase in the number of Indian workers and students coming to the UK. This could be welcomed by some sectors that face skills shortages, such as health care and technology, but opposed by others who fear competition and social impact.