The Slovenia Times

Today we need to think creatively for the future of the EU-UK relationship



You have had an almost 20 year career in British diplomacy and mandates in countries including Zimbabwe and Mexico. How would you characterise your mandate in Slovenia compared to other countries?

It is difficult to compare because my time in Slovenia and the countries I've worked in before were during different stages of my life. But, if I think about my current mandate in Slovenia, I would say it is quite hot and spicy because of Brexit, which was not something that I anticipated before I came here. It means these are very interesting and challenging times for me as a diplomat, but also something that I believe in because the negotiations are all about finding a way to keep the UK and the EU very close and very connected, because that is the right way forward.

Last year, your Foreign Secretary, Mr Boris Johnson, visited Slovenia, joining the celebrations marking 25 years of UK-Slovene ties and he said: "We already have close political dialogue, growing trade and excellent defence and cultural links, and I look forward to discussing with our Slovene partners how we can continue to grow this relationship in the future." What is the value and trend of bilateral trade? Which are the most attractive business sectors?

This is a very apt question with a view on the recent 'Great campaign' event celebrating 10 years of the British Slovene Chamber of Commerce where I heard that Slovenian trade has been growing since 2012. The value of our bilateral trade is over EUR 1.3 billion on goods and services per year and it continues to grow. Talking to the business people who were at the event, it is clear that there is a lot more scope for development, the Chamber is growing - as are the number of members in the last two years, and I think this just shows the interest from the business community and potential for growth. In terms of sectors, UK - Slovene trade is dominated by goods (electrical, equipment, furniture, pharmaceuticals) but services are also on the rise.

How do you approach the strengthening of nationalist powers in Europe from a security perspective? Is there any correlation?

Nationalism can be an ambiguous term because, in one sense, it means identification with your nation or country to support its interests, which is positive and can be achieved in a very cooperative and internationalist way, and that is absolutely the approach of the UK. Nationalism can also be used to mean something slightly different, which is identifying with your own nation and pursuing its interests to the exclusion or detriment of others. Thinking about the UK's perspective on this, of course any government it is responsible to its people and for pursuing the interest of its people. Our view is that it is absolutely critical to work internationally on all issues, including security and that is why we work through the UN and NATO. Thinking about our future partnership with the EU, we want to work very closely on security because we believe that the UK's security is fundamentally linked to that of our EU partners. So, we stay very committed to helping maintain European security as well. In Brexit, we are searching for a solution that enables those links to continue, although we are leaving the institutions of the EU.

Starting in March, recent events in and around Salisbury have been causing worry and distrust, foremost from the security perspective. Can you share some thoughts on the current status of what is happening?

Well in March there was a very serious incident in Salisbury when a highly toxic nerve agent was used in the attempted murder of two people, Sergei and Yulia Skripal. Luckily they recovered thanks to expert care, but subsequently two more people were affected and one of them, a British national, sadly died as a result. Following evidence from the investigation, and identification of the specific nerve agent used, we made clear our view that it was highly likely that Russia was responsible for the attack on the Skripals. We were grateful to have Slovenia's support, together with all members of the European Council, for this judgement. A very detailed and complex police investigation has since continued, examining hundreds of sites and thousands of hours of CCTV, as well as confirming the specific nerve agent in cooperation with independent experts from OPCW. Just recently British police announced that the investigation had resulted in charges against two Russian nationals for attempted murder of the Skripals. We have shared operational details underpinning the investigation with close partners including Slovenia. I want to say thank you for backing us in our assessment. The progress made in this investigation shows that we were right to reach this judgement.

The UK has set 29 March 2019 as the date of its exit. What will change after Brexit for the Slovenes living and / or studying in the UK and the UK-Slovenian relationship?

For Slovenes studying and living in the UK I hope that very little will change. We reached agreement with the EU in December on citizens' rights, which covers the rights of EU nationals settled in the UK and British nationals settled in the EU. The principle behind that agreement is continuity: everything should stay the same in terms of their rights to live, to work, to access education and healthcare. Obviously, this needs to be part of the whole deal and now it is important that we make progress and find a way forward on the future economic partnership and on the future relationship on security. Of course, the UK-Slovenian relationship will change because we will no longer be partners within the EU, but we will remain very close bilateral partners and NATO partners of Slovenia. Fundamentally, our goals and interests remain the same. We will continue to speak out on the issues that we spoke out on in the past and work with Slovenia on these, not within the EU but through our bilateral partnership and the wider partnership that we want to build with the EU and our NATO partnership.

At the Bled Strategic Forum 2018, Mr Michel Barnier, Chief Negotiator - Task Force for the Preparation and Conduct of the Negotiations with the UK said: "There is no winner, it is a lose-lose game, there is no added value to Brexit, so far nobody has provided any proof of added value for Brexit." Would you agree?

No, I do not agree with that. I was listening in the audience, it was an excellent presentation that Mr Barnier gave in Bled. I remember when he said that and I fundamentally disagree with that, firstly because the winner is the democratic process. In the UK we had a referendum, it was decided by a very large majority in Parliament that we should put this long running question in political debate in the UK to a referendum and we should trust the people. So, we got the results - it was a narrow result, but it was a result and it would be fundamentally disrespectful to the democratic process in the UK to say, "well that is a bit inconvenient, we will just ignore it and try again". It does not work within our political culture. So, we listened to the results of the referendum and we are trying to find a way forward to negotiate a new relationship which still meets the interests of both sides, but respects the view of the British people. It will be different and there will be some losses, we will be coming out of the Single Market and that will mean that access to each other's markets is less than before. But it does not have to be lose-lose all round. On the economic side, we are looking for a relationship which is consistent with coming out of the Single Market, respecting the integrity of the single market, but it can and should be much closer and deeper than the trade relationship which the EU has with third countries such as South Korea or Canada. It comes down to common sense and business sense, and it is consistently heard from business contacts who are involved. It does mean thinking creatively about what our future relationship will look like because there are opportunities. I believe you say in Slovene, "kjer je volja, tam je pot!''...Where there's a will, there's is a way!


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