UK-Qatar ties historic, deep and important: envoy
September 19 2019 07:49 PM
Ajay Sharma
Ajay Sharma

By Ajay Sharma, British Ambassador to Qatar

* Amir to hold talks with Johnson in London on Friday

The British Ambassador to Qatar, Ajay Sharma said:

"The relationship that we have between the UK and Qatar is historic, deep and important. We in the UK are entering a new period in our history as we leave the European Union.

It is a good illustration of the strength of the relationship that in this key moment in our history, we have a meeting between our Prime Minister Boris Johnson and His Highness the Amir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani on Friday, 20th of September.

This goes to show how much Qatar matters to UK, but also how much the UK matters to Qatar. People are visiting London and Doha all the time, whether it is for tourism, sport (we all wish Qatar in hosting the world athletics this month) for business or at the political level.

And this is great. But when we have engagement at the highest-level possible between our Prime Minister and his Highness this is something special. It is a great opportunity to set the direction for the relationship.

We are particularly lucky that at the top of our systems we have people who know our two countries well. We have a Prime Minister who knows Qatar very well. He knows Qatar from his time as Mayor of London.

During his tenure, Qatar has changed the London skyline with the Shard, Chelsea Barracks, and the Olympic Village. There is a whole series of projects that happened in London involving Qatar which have made the Prime Minister someone who knows about the country. He visited Qatar several times as Mayor of London.

But he also knows Qatar not only from a London perspective but as our previous Foreign Secretary, when he visited Qatar just after the dispute started in the summer of 2017.

He has strong relationships with people in Qatar.

On the other side, His Highness the Amir knows the UK so well from his time at Sandhurst, his time at school, and his frequent visits to the UK. So this puts us in a really good place in terms of taking forward the relationship.

Over the course of the last few years, I have seen changes in the nature of the relationship between our countries. We now have a really strong commitment from the British government to work closely with Qatar on the World Cup. This is really important and crucial for both the UK and Qatar.

We also have a really strong commitment - signed by our former Prime Minister Theresa May - to work with Qatar on 2030 National Vision.

This has opened the door to lots of different co-operation, whether on health, education, financial services, and has given people a structure and framework to share expertise and exchange information.

We have also deepened our co-operation on defence through the Typhoon jet programme. This is not just about Qatar’s acquisition of 24 Typhoon aircraft, but a stronger defence relationship over the next 30 years.

That is transformational.

One of the outcomes from the Prime Minister-Amir meeting will, I hope, be even stronger co-operation in areas of mutual benefit. This is about not only trade (which is around £6.5bn annually) and investment, security and defence, but also about the World Cup in particular, which is going to be with us sooner than we think.

Three years is not really far away, and we in the UK, we want to do as much as possible to work with Qatar to ensure that the World Cup is a safe, secure and successful tournament. We want to share our expertise from hosting the Olympics and dealing with large-scale sporting events and football fans all coming together in one place.

In parallel to the work we are doing on the World Cup, I hope that we will have more co-operation in the areas of 2030 National Vision because we have common interests and objectives.

Many of the challenges that Qatar has identified are also challenges that we in the UK are also trying to find solutions to. We hope that there will be a lot of work that we can do that will be mutually beneficial in these areas, whether they are relating to big data, artificial intelligence, elderly population, or health issues, etc.

We are committed to helping Qatar diversify its economy. We’re very keen to get British companies involved in that agenda, whether it’s financial services, in particular fintech, or other services.

The UK sees Qatar as a partner not only in the UK but also in Qatar and also - interestingly - in third countries. We should do more to explore what we as the UK can do with Qatar and Qatari businesses in third countries.

Investment has been another important part of the relationship. We in the UK are very pleased with the confidence and trust that Qatar has shown in the UK economy through its investments, which are over £35bn now.

On investment it is a win-win situation, the UK is still one of the largest economies in the world with a dynamic workforce and a history as a trading nation with great innovation and world-class expertise.

I really think that even more investments from Qatar into the UK will continue to bring benefits for both the UK and Qatar; and this is something that we certainly need to encourage.

As a Londoner, I love to see London doing well, but there’s a lot of opportunities for investment outside of the London area, and I think Qatar would really benefit from being an investor outside London especially in areas where people haven’t invested before - in some of our regional cities and devolved administrations.

On the energy relationship, Qatar is a very important supplier of LNG to the UK. The fact is that 20 to 30% of our gas imports come from Qatar. We in the UK rely heavily on Qatar, but we also want to be part of Qatar’s LNG expansion.

This is a huge business opportunity that we would like UK companies and industry be part of. This is certainly an area of real interest for the UK in terms of developing the relationship over the course of the next few years.

And as the UK is due to be hosting COP 26 in 2020, I think that we can do more with Qatar on the green energy agenda.

We would also like to further deepen the intergenerational relationship, so people in Qatar feel that not only was the UK the best friend of Qatar in the past, but also we are the best friend of Qatar in the future.

One of the other projects that we are working on is how we promote those links between young people and educational institutions, so the future is just as positive in terms of the relationship as the past.

This is something that is very much a shared agenda with the British Council, but something which people back in London are very keen to support.

The UK and Qatar have a shared interest in ensuring and working together in making this region as stable as possible, and that means looking at ways to promote dialogue and peaceful resolution of disputes and disagreements.

Qatar has a unique ability to reach parts of the region and the world. And we in the UK have multiple relationships with lots of different partners across the globe.

That is why the UK and Qatar can do more in promoting regional stability and in support of the rules-based international system.

Working together we can help create an environment where people can live in harmony and prosper. These are values that the UK and Qatar share."

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