Change is coming

A GREAT BRITISH VIEW - Asif Ahmad - The Philippine Star

I left Manila for London just after the inauguration of the President of the Philippines. My fellow Ambassadors, from all our missions, came together to take stock of developments in the United Kingdom and the world. Change was all around in my two weeks in London and my drive around England and Scotland. The decision by the people of the UK to leave the European Union set off a chain reaction that has now brought Theresa May into office as Prime Minister. There is a new Cabinet and work has now begun to implement the policies of the new team. Terrorism in Bangladesh and France as well as instability in Turkey are stark reminders of the types of issues we face in our work.  My colleagues kept me in the loop as the Philippines took stock of the implications of the UNCLOS ruling. Amidst change, I also took on board renewed assurance about Britain and our world view.

As the UK prepares for a future outside the EU, it is worth emphasising that we are an integral part of Europe. So long as we remain a member state, we will continue to fund the EU and play a full role on issues where we work together. We helped shape the common market with an open attitude to trade and investment. More than half of our two-way trade is with the other members of the EU and that interdependence will continue to be important to all of us.

The reasons for our rank as the second biggest recipient of global foreign investment have not fundamentally changed. We are the fifth largest economy in the world with a top 10 ranking by the World Economic Forum for competitiveness. London has the largest market share for international financial services. That is why most Filipino listed companies have UK shareholders. Our goal is to build new links with the EU and step up further our engagement with the wider world.

We are the only major country which will meet NATO’s target of two percent of GDP spending on defence and at the same time continue to invest 0.7 percent of gross national income on development assistance. As a permanent member of the UN Security Council, Britain is in a position to back its commitment to a rules-based global system with proven capability to respond to threats that affect people at home and abroad. The agility and talent of our Armed Forces, intelligence services, and a diplomatic network that is one of the largest and most influential in the world, enable us to confront those who want to do harm and to support friends who need help.

The Filipino physiotherapist who tends to my elderly mother each week and offers a running commentary to her on my social and other media news is a good example of the 250,000-strong community who will continue to live and work in the UK unaffected by Brexit. We have always had a separate immigration policy. Remittances and the freedom to move funds in and out of the UK are unaffected. I saw tourists in all our hotspots taking in the rich heritage of Britain, shopping with the benefit of favourable exchange rates and enjoying the freedom travellers have on foot, biking, or taking a train. Full flights and our busy visa operation are clear indications that the UK is now a prime destination for Pinoys. To those who were unaware of my Filipino language proficiency as they gossiped in public places, I say, your secrets are safe with me.

My return journey was affected by an unscheduled stop in Clark as NAIA was closed. I was able to give a firsthand account to Secretary Tugade of the way authorities responded well to adversity. We agreed to step up work with the DOTr on improving airports in the Philippines. He pushed his team and NATS, the UK company working on runway optimisation to deliver real change in the next six months. The Secretary obviously reads my monthly column as he vowed to implement changes in the way taxis operate from NAIA.

Jet lag is easy to shift when you are busy. I want to remove any doubt that the UK is somehow diminished by recent events. Quite the contrary. We had already identified the Philippines as an ‘emerging power’ and that has led to a doubling of the size of my Embassy in my three years here. The Prime Minister’s Trade Envoy is coming to Manila and Cebu next month. We are taking 60 business leaders to London in September to do more with us. Meanwhile, I am making formal calls on all members of President Duterte’s Cabinet having met most of them informally in the run-up to June 30. We have a lot to talk about because they all say “Change is coming.”

I agree. Change is indeed coming. But what is constant is our energy and enthusiasm in shaping a world where Britain is seen as an engaging partner.


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