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Philip Parham

UK Commonwealth Envoy, former British Ambassador to the United Arab Emirates

Part of UK in UAE

8th February 2017 London, UK

My speech at Family Office Forum Dubai on UK-GCC relations and a post-Brexit Global Britain

I am going to talk to you today about the relations between the Gulf and a Global Britain – an outward-looking nation thriving and prospering on the world stage. I will touch on the strength of the partnership, the shared interests which make this imperative, and, of course, the implications of Brexit.

Partnership between the UK and the Gulf

The partnership between the UK and the Gulf spans more than three centuries. The list of significant milestones might start with the treaties signed in the mid-seventeenth century between the East India Company and Oman. The most recent milestone is certainly the UK Prime Minister’s attendance at the GCC Summit in December last year: The first British Prime Minister, only the third Western leader and the first woman to be invited to attend and address the summit.

As the Prime Minister said during her address to the GCC leaders, the UK seeks not just to reaffirm a relationship that is of great historic value but to renew a partnership that is absolutely fundamental to our shared future: a partnership in politics, defence, security, development and trade.

At least as important as relationships between leaders and governments are the links between our peoples and businesses. The UK and Gulf has these in abundance.

Around 175,000 British nationals live in the region – with more than 100,000 of these in the UAE. They can be proud of the contribution that they have made to the GCC’s development. From running some of the most important projects (for the UAE these include Emirates Airlines, NYUAD and both Dubai and Abu Dhabi airports); to designing, planning and building some of its most iconic and critical infrastructure (including two of the core buildings for Expo 2020, the new Martyrs’ National Memorial in Abu Dhabi, and Abu Dhabi’s sewage system).

It doesn’t stop at residents. 1.5 million British nationals visit the UAE every year; hundreds of thousands of Gulf citizens visit Britain every year; over 20,000 new students travel from the Gulf to the UK for further and higher education each year; and, almost 18,000 students study on UK branch campuses in the Gulf.

And we should not forget the role of business. More than 5,000 British businesses operate in the UAE alone. And anyone who regularly attends the region’s leading trade exhibitions, such as Arab Health, ADIPEC and IDEX, will notice the increasing number of UK companies exhibiting within the GCC stands, made possible by joint ventures: a good example of how you, the business families in the region, have played a key role in consolidating links between the UK and the region.

A couple more statistics to underline the scale of those commercial links: the UK exports more to the GCC than to China, and more than twice as much as to India. And the UAE is the UK’s fourth largest export market outside Europe.

Shared Interests

I briefly touched earlier on the history of the UK’s relations with the GCC. Many of the treaties which we have signed with leaders in this region over the last three centuries – and the core of our relations – have been about securing mutual security in order to foster mutual prosperity. This is as important today as it was three hundred years ago.

Gulf security is the UK’s security. Terrorism is one of many shared threats that we face. Terrorists do not respect borders. Those same depraved individuals in Syria, Iraq and elsewhere who plot attacks in the Gulf are also those who seek bloodshed on the streets of Paris, Brussels and London. The Gulf has no more committed partner than the UK in seeking to tackle this shared threat.

The UK has deployed considerable assets to the region to protect our shared security. One example is the Royal Navy’s current command of US Task Force 50 in the Gulf. The Royal Navy’s flagship HMS Ocean, a helicopter carrier and amphibious assault ship, is providing maritime security through a continued presence in the Gulf region following the departure of USS Dwight D Eisenhower from the Gulf.

The Prime Minister announced in Manama that the United Kingdom will make a more permanent and more enduring commitment to the long-term security of the Gulf. We have committed to over £3 billion of defence spending in the Gulf over the next decade, more than in any other region. And we have more warships, aircraft and personnel deployed on operations in the Gulf than anywhere else in the world.

The UK plays a lead role in the counter-Daesh Coalition. The RAF has conducted over 1,100 strikes, and provided highly advanced intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance assistance in support of the Coalition effort. In fact, our strike contribution is second only to the US, as is our contribution to ISR (intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance). We’ve also trained more than 31,000 Iraqi forces (including over 7,000 Kurdish Peshmerga).

Just as Gulf security is the UK’s security, your prosperity is also our prosperity. Jobs are created and sustained by the annual bilateral trade between the UK and the Gulf – currently worth more than £30 billion – and by the investment flowing in both directions which is transforming our cities.

The Prime Minister has committed to building on this and elevating our trade and investment partnership to an even more ambitious level and taking advantage of the opportunities of tomorrow. Which brings me to the final part of my speech.

Implications of Brexit

On 23 June the British people decided to leave the European Union. Last month the Prime Minister set out the Government’s objectives as we negotiate our exit. She outlined the outcome we are seeking and the approach we will take in trying to achieve it. But what does this mean for our relationship with the Gulf?

Some might argue that the vote to leave the European Union was a vote for isolationism; Britain turning its back on the world – which would have a profoundly negative effect on our bilateral relations around the globe. Fortunately, this interpretation could not be further from the truth.

We are a permanent member of the UN Security Council.

We are a linchpin of NATO, with the largest defence budget in Europe.

We are at the heart of the Commonwealth, that great voluntary association of 2.2 billion people with The Queen at their head.

We are the fifth largest economy in the world; the fastest growing major economy over the last three or four years.

Employment in the UK is at its highest ever. Unemployment is at its lowest for 12 years and less than half the Eurozone average.

4 of the top 10 universities, and 18 of the top 100, are in the UK.

Of all the world’s heads of state and government, one in every seven was educated in Britain.

Add up all the Nobel Prizes won by all the universities in Russia and China, double them and you will still have fewer Nobel Prizes than Cambridge University.

As a Russian spectator observed at the 2012 Olympic opening ceremony, Britain wrote the soundtrack of the world.

The Premier League is watched in 543m homes in 212 territories.

The BBCWS broadcasts to an audience of 246m in 28 languages. And it’s now going to add 11 new language services in its largest expansion since the 1940s.

So much for a country in retreat.

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 the 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.

Alone among the large economies, we devote 0.7% of our Gross National Income to humanitarian aid and development.

The Prime Minister has set out our vision to be a truly Global Britain – the best friend and neighbour to our European partners, but a country that reaches beyond the borders of Europe too. A country that goes out into the world to build relationships with old friends and new allies alike. To boost trade with countries and blocs around the world, including the Gulf. The importance of relations with our long-standing friends in the Gulf will only grow.

What about whether the UK will remain an attractive investment destination for the Gulf? The UK continues to be the number one destination for Foreign Direct Investment in Europe attracting a fifth of all foreign investment. And for good reason: in addition to what I have already said, we have the lowest corporation tax in the G7 and joint lowest in the G20. Inflation remains low and stable. The deficit has been cut by almost two-thirds since its peak in 2010. And we are the highest ranked major economy on the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business Index.

The road ahead will undoubtedly be uncertain at times. But we embark on this new phase in our history from a very strong position. Since the EU referendum vote we have continued to see major investment commitments to the UK: Softbank acquired chip manufacturer ARM for £24bn; GSK announced £275m investment into manufacturing, both Apple and Google committed to expanding their headquarters in London; and Snapchat’s parent company announced it will set up its first non-US office in London.

Closer to home we have seen Abu Dhabi Investment Authority invest over £750m in infrastructure and real estate, and the Qatari Investment Authority co-investing in the acquisition of the National Grid’s gas division in a deal worth £13.8bn. The UK is very much open for business. And we have a global network of investment advisors, including in the Gulf, who stand ready to support your investments into the UK.

And we expect Brexit to stimulate trade between the UK and GCC. The Prime Minister agreed with GCC leaders in Manama to set up a new UK-GCC Joint Working Group to examine how to unblock remaining barriers to trade and take steps further to liberalise our economies. We hope that these discussions will pave the way for an ambitious growth in trade as the UK leaves the EU.

The Prime Minister has been very clear about the scale of our ambition and the extent of our determination to establish the strongest possible trade and investment relationships between the UK and the Gulf.


Those who have gone before us have built solid foundations for the ties between the UK and the Gulf. We are the custodians of this legacy, and it is our duty to take the opportunities and tackle the challenges of today to provide a bright future for the generations of tomorrow.

And we should do so with confidence – confidence that the UK and the Gulf will thrive and prosper and do good.

And you should be confident in us – confident that we, the UK, will be a reliable ally, a trusted partner, and a creative global leader for the common good

And that, in being all those things, we will be: open, diverse, tolerant, dynamic, outward facing, and ready for change, challenge and opportunity.

About Philip Parham

Philip Parham became the UK government’s Envoy to the Commonwealth on 18 June 2018. Previously Philip was Her Majesty’s Ambassador to the United Arab Emirates from 2014 until 2018.

Philip Parham became the UK government’s Envoy to the Commonwealth on 18 June 2018. Previously Philip was Her Majesty’s Ambassador to the United Arab Emirates from 2014 until 2018.