19th April 2017 Abu Dhabi, UAE
Ambassador’s speech during the Queen’s birthday party 2017
Your Highness, Minister, Excellencies, Ladies and gentlemen
A warm welcome – from me and my wife Kasia – to this celebration of the 91st birthday of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, which has been opened beautifully by the singing of the Choir of the British School Al Khubairat.
Before I go further, with great sadness, I ask you all, particularly my fellow Ambassadors, to mark the shocking news that our colleague Siray Tembo, the Ambassador of Sierra Leone to the UAE, died earlier today after a short illness. He was a good friend of mine ever since we presented our credentials together. He will be a great loss to our community. We send all our sympathy to his wife and family and colleagues. Please observe a few moments silence in his memory.
I am particularly grateful to you, Your Excellency Saqr Ghobash Saeed Ghobash, Minister of Human Resources & Emiratisation, and Chairman of the National Qualifications Authority. It is an honour to have you here at this celebration, and very good of you to join us.
It is an honour not only because you represent the government of the United Arab Emirates, but also because of what your career represents in public service.
And our celebration this evening is all about public service – in fact, an unrivalled record of public service. Her Majesty The Queen has reigned for over 65 years. She has fulfilled to overflowing the promise which she made to her peoples at her coronation: “Throughout all my life,” she said, “and with all my heart, I shall strive to be worthy of your trust”. And she still strives after all these years – with her patronage of 600 charities and organisations and around 15,000 public engagements in the last 30 years.
She – the 40th successor of her 27-times-great-grandfather William the Conqueror – is now onto her 13th Prime Minister and her 13th US President. And, through decades of swirling change, she has played a remarkable unifying role as Head of the Commonwealth – a free association of 53 nations comprising nearly a third of the world’s population, promoting democracy, rule of law, human rights, good governance and development.
I mentioned decades of change, but much has changed in the past year alone. The British people have voted to leave the EU. The UK has a new Prime Minister. I answer to a new Foreign Secretary. There is a new President in the White House. The French will start electing a new President on Sunday. And we, the UK (who sometimes modestly like to remind people that whatever the French can do, we can do better), will now have our own election on 8 June.
But, whatever happens, The Queen, her British government and her British people will continue to play global roles. Many of you here this evening are members of the 12.5% club – the 12.5% of British natives who are now living and working abroad.
The UK has the biggest diaspora of any major country. The British people have had an extraordinary propensity over the centuries to spread themselves around the world.
That’s why there are over 100,000 of us here in the UAE, and why we have such a long history with the Emirates.
And we don’t have just a historic past with the Emirates, but also a great and exciting present and future.
The UAE is our fourth largest export market outside Europe – only US, Japan and China are bigger. Ten British Ministers and the Chief of our Defence Staff have visited the UAE so far this year.
From our Prime Minister’s participation in the GCC Summit in Bahrain in December, and her more recent visit to the region, you will have seen how much importance we attach to the Gulf, and how much impact we can and do and will make here.
Our Prime Minister was one of the first Heads of Government to confirm publicly that her country would participate in Dubai Expo 2020, for which British architects have already designed two of the iconic central buildings. We look forward to emulating, and indeed surpassing, in Dubai our award-winning participation in the Milan and Shanghai Expos.
A few months ago, I found myself standing near the main entrance to the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, and realised that throughout the Mosque behind me were the fine floral mosaics of British designer Kevin Dean; and straight ahead was the noble and moving new Wahat al Karama monument to the fallen, the work of British artist Idris Khan; and to the left were the striking arches of Sheikh Zayed Bridge designed by British architect Zaha Hadid.
That moment, at that spot, brought home the extent and multiplicity of British involvement with the UAE. And also the powerful role of culture in its broadest sense.
We have been delighted that the UK-UAE 2017 Year of Creative Collaboration has made such a strong start, under the patronage of His Highness Sheikh Mohammed Bin Zayed and His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales, and with the invaluable support of His Highness Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak and several Emirati cultural institutions.
The spring season has already comprised 114 events in 6 cities across the UAE, with direct participants and audiences of 83,000. The launch by the two Royal co-Patrons, at the iconic Jahili Fort in Al Ain last November, supported by Barclays, was truly memorable – as was the whole visit of Their Royal Highnesses The Prince of Wales and Duchess of Cornwall, thanks to the characteristically generous hospitality of their Emirati hosts.
Talking of stylish UK-UAE collaboration, I am very grateful to Al Habtoor Royal Car – Bentley Emirates – and you should all be grateful to them too – for their support of our celebration this evening. Their involvement could not be more appropriate. The Bentley brand represents British heritage, class and excellence to its core. And, in 2002, Bentley presented to Her Majesty The Queen a personal state limousine to mark her Golden Jubilee.
Al Habtoor Royal Car will, incidentally, open a new state-of-the-art showroom in Abu Dhabi in the third quarter of this year – with new and pre-owned cars, café, boutique and experts with whom you can discuss how a Bentley – or indeed Bentleys plural – can be personalised for you. So get your foretaste from the cars we have here this evening, and start saving for the autumn!
I mentioned earlier, ladies and gentlemen, that the British people have voted to leave the EU.
No one should suggest that this will be simple.
But there has been some very ill-informed and ill-judged talk of the United Kingdom turning its back on the world and its friends and allies.
So, in the next minute or so, before you enjoy the catering and scene-setting of The Club, the refreshments of MMI and the music of the Dubai Pops Orchestra, let me just get this straight.
The United Kingdom is, and will remain – but even more so – a global nation: a country galvanised by new possibilities and a country that is politically and economically and morally fated to be more outward-looking and more engaged with the world than ever before.
We will be leaving the EU, but we will not be leaving Europe. We will remain a European country, with a strong interest in the prosperity and security of our European friends and partners.
We are a permanent member of the UN Security Council.
We are a linchpin of NATO, with the largest defence budget in Europe.
Our contribution to the military campaign against Daesh – in strikes, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance – is second only to that of the United States.
We are at the heart of the Commonwealth, that great voluntary association (as I mentioned earlier) of 2.2 billion people with The Queen at their head.
We are the fifth largest economy in the world, and the fastest growing major economy over the last three years.
We are the highest ranked major economy on the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business Index.
Employment in the UK is at its highest ever, and unemployment at its lowest for 12 years – less than half the Eurozone average.
Major new investments – including from the UAE – have continued to flow into the UK over the last 10 months.
4 of the world’s top 10 universities are in the UK, and 18 of the top 100.
Of all the world’s heads of state and government, one in every seven was educated in Britain.
As a Russian spectator observed at the 2012 Olympics opening ceremony, Britain wrote the soundtrack of the world.
And at the 2016 Summer Olympics, we were second only to the US in the tally of both gold and silver medals.
The Premier League is watched in 543m homes in 212 territories.
Andy Murray is the world’s Number 1 tennis player.
The BBC World Service broadcasts to an audience of 246m in 28 languages. And it’s now adding 11 new language services in its largest expansion since the 1940s.
So much for a country in retreat from the world, ladies and gentlemen.
In sticking up for a liberal international order – for the rules-based interaction of sovereign nation states – the United Kingdom is overwhelmingly a force for good in the confusion and discord of the early 21st century.
We have taken the lead in tackling Ebola, anti-microbial resistance and modern slavery – on which we convened the first UN Security Council discussion last month.
Alone among the G7 and other large economies, we devote 0.7% of our Gross National Income to humanitarian aid and development.
We have just announced £100m of new support for demining, which will clear the equivalent of over 20,000 football pitches and help 800,000 people return to their normal livelihoods.
We have so far committed over $3 billion to support Syrians driven from their homes by conflict.
We will invest £360m over the next five years in tackling neglected tropical diseases, changing the lives of over 200 million people.
Our £30m Cultural Protection Fund, £6m of which has already been committed to specific projects, is preserving humanity’s heritage in regions afflicted by conflict.
So, ladies and gentlemen, we should – with all due humility – be confident – confident that the United Kingdom will thrive and prosper and do good.
And our partners and allies should be confident in us – confident that we will be:
- a reliable ally
- a trusted partner
- a creative global leader for the common good
And in being all those things, we will be:
- outward facing and
- ready for change, challenge and opportunity