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Sunak pledges to ‘put pressure’ on Moscow as he arrives in India for summit

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and his wife Akshata Murty meet local schoolchildren at the British Council during an official visit ahead of the G20 Summit in New Delhi, India (Dan Kitwood/PA) (PA Wire)
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and his wife Akshata Murty meet local schoolchildren at the British Council during an official visit ahead of the G20 Summit in New Delhi, India (Dan Kitwood/PA) (PA Wire)

Rishi Sunak has said he will use the G20 summit to “put pressure” on Moscow, amid global concerns over the blockade of grain out of Ukraine.

The Prime Minister received a colourful welcome as he arrived in India to attend the G20 leaders’ summit, later meeting with and speaking to local children during a visit to the British Council in New Delhi.

But he stressed that the meeting of world leaders would have a serious focus, amid the ongoing war in Ukraine.

“One of the priorities I have being here is to highlight the impact of Russia’s war on millions of vulnerable people around the world. And that’s the impact of food prices.”

Mr Sunak condemned Russia’s decision to pull out of the Black Sea Grain initiative, which allowed ships carrying grain to leave southern Ukrainian ports without fear of attack, in July.

“Russia’s pulled out of that deal, you’ve seen prices go up and typically that has an impact, not just at home in the UK, but as I said, on millions of vulnerable people.

“I’ll be highlighting that devastating impact so that people are aware of what’s happening and put pressure on Russia to cease attacking civilian infrastructure in Ukraine.”

Mr Putin has said the deal, brokered by Turkey and the United Nations, will not be restored until the West meets Moscow’s demands on its own agricultural exports.

The pact, first signed in July 2022 and extended every three months for a year, led to 33 million tonnes of grain and food exports leaving Ukraine, with the majority going to developing nations struggling for food supplies, according to the UN.

Mr Putin has opted not to attend the New Delhi gathering in person but his foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, is expected to attend.

Mr Sunak conceded that “it may not be that everyone here agrees on everything” when asked about the difficulty of finding consensus among the grouping.

Pressed on the importance of reaching an agreement on condemning Moscow over the war, he said: “The G20 is a broad group of countries and they have different perspectives, but it’s still important to be talking to people, to be engaging, to highlighting things like Russia’s aggression and the impact it’s having.

“I think we can be proud of the role we play as the Brits here, highlighting these important issues, doing our bit to make a difference.”

The Prime Minister and his wife, Akshata Murty, daughter of billionaire Indian IT giant Infosys co-founder NR Narayana Murty, were greeted by traditional dancers and music as they disembarked from RAF Voyager at Indira Gandhi Airport on Friday.

They spoke with Alex Ellis, the British high commissioner to India, and Indian minister of state Shri Ashwini Kumar Choubey before visiting the British Council in New Delhi.

Speaking to reporters on the flight from London to the Indian capital, the Conservative Party leader, who is the first British prime minister of Indian descent, spoke about how “special” it was to return to a country that is “very near and dear” to him.

He revealed it was his first time returning to India in more than three years.

Mr Sunak, who is a practising Hindu, told reporters: “It is obviously special.

“I saw somewhere that I was referred to as India’s son-in-law, which I hope was meant affectionately.”

The G20 summit will take place on Saturday and Sunday, with Mr Sunak expected to speak on the topics of migration, the global economy, the Ukraine conflict and climate change.

He is scheduled to meet Indian prime minister Narendra Modi for bilateral talks on the fringes of the summit, with officials not ruling out the premiers discussing progress on a UK-India free trade agreement (FTA).

Boris Johnson, when he was in Downing Street, targeted October 2022 to sign off on a post-Brexit trade pact, in a move designed to coincide with celebrations of the Hindu festival of Diwali.

His successor, Liz Truss, made the same commitment during her brief stint as prime minister.

But that original target has been missed by almost a year and Mr Sunak has been reluctant to set out a time frame for doing a deal with the country of 1.4 billion people.

There has been speculation that one of the hold-ups to a trade pact is India’s push for more visas to be granted for its people to work in Britain – a request Home Secretary Suella Braverman reportedly holds concerns about.

No 10 on Thursday ruled out any change to UK immigration policy to accommodate an FTA with New Delhi.

But the Prime Minister’s official spokesman indicated an expansion of business visas would potentially be considered.

The summit in India marks the gathering of leaders from the world’s 20 largest economies.

There are no set plans for UK leader Mr Sunak to meet with Chinese premier Li Qiang, who is representing Beijing at the summit in president Xi Jinping’s absence, but No 10 has not shut down the possibility of a short interaction between the pair.

On Friday, Mr Sunak and Mrs Murty met children at the British Council in New Delhi who were learning computer coding and language skills through UK funding.

They also talked to a group having football lessons, with Mrs Murty going barefoot when she joined the youngsters with a ball.

In the evening, the Prime Minister held informal talks with his Italian counterpart Giorgia Meloni, before the Sunaks had a private dinner together.