Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman has expressed disappointment over a “baseless” media report in the UK that alleged her British counterpart Gavin Williamson turned down a request for a bilateral meeting. The meeting was requested over a month ago by Indian officials, and at least two British ministers including Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson reportedly sought to convince Mr Williamson of the importance of finding time for Ms Sitharaman.
“Disappointed, Sunday Times (UK). Baseless story, to say the least. The UK & India have a robust relationship. A mutually convenient date is being worked out for meeting & I look forward to it,” Ms Sitharaman tweeted.
Mr Williamson responded to her tweet: “And I very much look forward to it too.”
The Sunday Times report claimed Mr Williamson declined to meet Ms Sitharaman’s three-day window of bilateral talks on security cooperation and defence procurement between June 20 and 22.
The newspaper quoted a UK government source as saying that “People are spitting blood about this.”
“India has one of the fastest-growing defence budgets in the world, spending something like USD 50 billion a year. It feels like another ill-judged move by Williamson,” the Sunday Times quoted the source as saying.
The report said Mr Williamson has been accused of angering one of the world’s largest emerging economies by snubbing his Indian counterpart.
Disappointed,Sunday Times (UK).Baseless story,to say the least.The UK & India have a robust relationship.A mutually convenient date is being worked out for meeting & I look forward to it.@GavinWilliamson @DefenceHQ @theresa_may @10DowningStreet @MEAIndia https://t.co/7VcRYLUE43
— Nirmala Sitharaman (@nsitharaman) July 1, 2018
— Gavin Williamson MP (@GavinWilliamson) July 1, 2018
We hope that the quoted tweet provides the necessary clarification.
Many news outlets carrying #FakeNews to portray a distorted and untrue picture.
We indeed look forward to fruitful discussions with our counterparts from the UK. https://t.co/dfBg0Jbd2u
— NSitharamanOffice (@nsitharamanoffc) July 1, 2018
Manoj Ladwa, the founder of UK-India Week organised in London and Buckinghamshire between June 18 and 22, said: “It would of course have been really good if Williamson could have spared some time, but let’s also not kid ourselves that the Indians will have lost too much sleep over it”.
The event, which included a two-day conclave and UK-India Awards, attracted a battery of senior political and business figures.
From the Indian side, NITI Aayog Vice Chairman Rajiv Kumar was joined by interim Finance Minister Piyush Goyal via live video link from New Delhi. Ms Sitharaman had been expected as the senior-most Indian attendee but the visit was put off as a meeting with Mr Williamson did not work out.