The Platform

Number 10

Bangladesh has come to rely on the United Kingdom in a number of areas.

During the post-Brexit period, the United Kingdom has been dealing with economic and political upheaval. In the last couple of months, this quagmire has been exacerbated. Following the downfall of both Boris Johnson and Liz Truss, the UK now has Rishi Sunak, its newest prime minister.

Sunak’s rise was widely celebrated by South Asian countries. Aside from India that welcomed Rishi’s selection to serve as prime minister by the UK Conservative Party, even Bangladesh offered a note of congratulations.

Since Bangladesh gained its independence in 1971, the UK has maintained strong trade ties with Bangladesh and is now the second-largest foreign investor in Bangladesh.

The UK ranks third in the world for exports of Bangladeshi products. In 2022, the total trade between the two countries was in the billions of dollars.

Since the emergence of the Rohingya refugee crisis in 2017, where Bangladesh has housed around one million refugees, Britain has been actively involved in finding a solution. It has consistently condemned Myanmar’s genocidal military campaign against the Rohingya. The United Kingdom has also prohibited the supply of military aid to Myanmar.

The UK has been providing financial assistance to Bangladesh and has also been applying pressure on Myanmar. The UK contribution to Bangladesh to date has totaled over £330 million. The UK has spoken out against Myanmar in the UN Security Council, upheld the Bhasan Char relocation, and backed Bangladesh on this issue against Myanmar at the International Court of Justice.

With that said, British aid for Rohingya refugees has been reduced substantially. Britain donated £27.6 million in 2021, £20 million less than the previous year. It is hoped that Sunak will reverse this trend.

The UK has played a critical role in Bangladesh’s development in terms of infrastructure spending, environmental protection, biodiversity conservation, and sustainable development. Both countries are tackling climate change, alternative energy development, and sustainable development. Boris Johnson, Sunak’s predecessor, pledged at COP26 to provide over £120 million in financial assistance to help reinforce Bangladesh’s climate plan. The success of this commitment now rests entirely on the Sunak government.

Similarly, the Sunak government can facilitate Bangladesh’s implementation of the SDGs and the Delta Plan 2100. Most importantly, the UK can strengthen Bangladesh’s socioeconomic development by promoting gender equality, women’s leadership, and the empowerment of marginalized communities. Sunak can also entrust British NGOs to empower Bangladesh with its socio-economic development. Bangladesh is concerned about the recent cut in funding for the BRAC NGO.

In recent years, both countries have tightened security and strategic ties. Bangladesh intends to purchase British warplanes and warships to strengthen its military capabilities. Additionally, Bangladeshi military personnel have received training in the United Kingdom.

Sunak has an excellent opportunity to consolidate Britain’s defense partnership with Bangladesh through capacity building in technology, peacekeeping, training, joint military drills, and combating climate change-driven disasters. Furthermore, Bangladesh could be an influential partner in furthering Britain’s geopolitical objectives in the region.

However, Bangladesh also carries some responsibilities to create a proper environment to fulfill these expectations. Bangladesh’s infrastructure is still in need of major improvements. The administrative structure here is quite complex, which is a major obstacle for British firms looking to do business in Bangladesh. Bangladesh routinely ranks at the bottom of ease of doing business indexes. Therefore, Bangladesh should give importance to fighting corruption and creating administrative transparency.

What could complicate the relationship is the pledge by Rishi Sunak to crack down on illegal immigration. Many Bangladeshis who are in the UK illegally could be deported under the plan. So, Bangladesh must tread carefully.

If properly messaged, the relationship between the United Kingdom and Bangladesh can only grow but it will take some finessing.

Ashiq Iqbal Jishad is pursuing a Bachelor's degree in Education from the University of Dhaka. His research interests include defense, immigration, Transatlantic relations, Eurasia, the European Union, and NATO.

Imran Hosen is pursuing a Bachelor's degree in Education from the University of Dhaka.