LONDON, Sept 19 (Reuters) – Britain will continue trade talks with India despite allegations from Canada that the Indian government was involved in the murder of a Sikh separatist leader on its soil, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s spokesperson said on Tuesday.
Britain is in close touch with Canada about the “serious allegations” but they will not have an impact on trade talks with India, the spokesperson said.
Sunak is hoping to finalise a free trade deal with India as Britain looks to establish its credentials as an independent trading nation after leaving the European Union.
Both sides have hinted at progress in recent months after a slow start to talks, raising hopes a deal could be completed ahead of elections due in both countries next year.
“Work on the trade negotiations will continue as before,” the spokesperson told reporters.
“When we have concerns about countries we are negotiating trade deals with, we will raise them directly with the government concerned. But with regards to the current negotiations with India, these are negotiations about a trade deal, and we’re not looking to conflate them with other issues.”
Canada said on Monday it was “actively pursuing credible allegations” that linked Indian government agents to Hardeep Singh Nijjar’s murder in British Columbia in June.
India dismissed the accusation as “absurd and motivated” and urged Canada instead to take legal action against anti-Indian elements operating from its soil.
The murder and the row that has led tit-for-tat diplomatic expulsions has drawn global attention to the cause of Sikh separatists, who seek an independent Sikh homeland in northern India, something fiercely opposed by Indian politicians.
Asked if the British government planned to raise Canada’s allegations with the Indian government, Sunak’s spokesperson said he would not get into what he called private discussions.
There were no plans to review the causes of death of Avtar Singh Khanda, who had also campaigned for a separate Sikh state in India from his home in England.
Khanda died in a hospital in the English city of Birmingham in June after contracting a sudden illness. After a review, local police concluded there were no suspicious circumstances.
Britain’s Trade Minister Kemi Badenoch told a parliamentary committee on Tuesday that a deal with India is “close” and an agreement could be reached this year, but the final part of negotiations are always the hardest.
Canada and Britain are home to the largest diaspora of Sikhs, where some Sikhs emigrated to flee violence in the 1970s and 1980s in the Indian state of Punjab that killed thousands.
India complained to the British government earlier this year after Sikh separatists detached the Indian flag from the country’s high commission in central London.
Additional reporting by Sachin Ravikumar; Editing by Kate Holton, Christina Fincher and Sharon Singleton
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