UK and Lithuania ties
As the UK Prime Minister Theresa May has triggered Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, which was the formal notification of the United Kingdom’s intention to leave the European Union, many Lithuanian émigrés dwelling in the United Kingdom are increasingly uneasy about what the UK split from the now 27 member-state bloc bodes to them. However, Claire Lawrence, the British Ambassador to Lithuania, whom The Baltic Times asked about the historical exit, wants to calm down all, both in Lithuania and the UK. “The UK Government is committed to securing an agreement as quickly as possible to secure the status of European Union migrants living in the UK and British migrants within European Union countries,” she emphasised.
What recent trends in UK and Lithuania trade are worth mentioning? Has Brexit dented the trade volume so far in any way?
Lithuania and the UK are strong trade partners. The trade and investment relationship is quite varied. Over the past year I’ve seen an increase in investment in both directions in hi-tech spheres, particularly fintech; the Barclays Rise platform, opened just after the UK EU referendum vote, is an interesting example of increasing UK Lithuanian collaboration on fintech. This is an area I expect will continue to grow given the strength of the fintech sectors in both the UK and Lithuania, but also the different opportunities each country offers. I haven’t seen any significant Brexit impact on the trade relationship, although it is of course a bit early for some of the figures. But I have been pleased to hear from Lithuanian investors that they are still interested in the UK as an investment destination. And while the UK is leaving the EU, we are still going to be an outward facing and trading nation, and one of the world’s biggest economies, so I expect the trade relationship with Lithuania will continue to thrive. I know that many in the Lithuanian business community are keen to continue a very close trade relationship with the UK after Brexit.
What would be your response to those Lithuanian emigrants in the UK who are worried about their future in post-brexit Britain?
I know that for many Lithuanians, they have questions about what Brexit will mean for them, particularly those living in the UK, and that the referendum outcome was unsettling. There is an important point to stress here. Thousands of Lithuanians have made Britain their home, and it is only fair that those, who have built lives for themselves abroad, who are contributing to foreign economies and giving back to overseas communities, have their rights and status guaranteed rapidly. The UK Government is committed to securing an agreement as quickly as possible to secure the status of European Union migrants living in the UK and British migrants within European Union countries.
Brexit, when it happens, will of course bring some changes. But, we are not leaving Europe. My intention is that our bilateral relationship with Lithuania will get stronger.
The human resource capacity at the British Embassy in Vilnius, as in the other UK embassies, has been ramped up following Brexit. Why? How has the workload changed thereafter?
We have increased our embassy size in the past year, some of which was already planned before the UK--EU referendum, for example to employ a new economic officer or to re-establish a permanent defence section in Vilnius. That has allowed us to increase already the range of work we’re doing with Lithuania. For example, we strongly support Lithuania’s goal of OECD accession and are following the accession and reform process with interest. This year, we will have another person join the Embassy to work on foreign and security policy, for example: NATO issues. And the British Council in Lithuania has expanded in the past year, working more widely across the country on culture and education.
Will Great Britain come in defense of Lithuania should an adversary intrude?
We are not leaving Europe, and our commitment to European security is as strong as ever. We are steadfast members of NATO, putting British troops on the ground in the Baltic region to help ensure the security of Lithuania and the Baltic states. We will have 800 plus British troops in Estonia soon, and another ca 150 in Poland, as part of NATO’S measures. That is on top of our continuing engagement, with troops exercising in Lithuania, our other military links (such as through the Joint Expeditionary Force) and links on security policy.
Can you talk a little about the nooks in Vilnius that you’ve fallen in love with? What do you do here for leisure?
Personally, I really enjoy living in Lithuania. I’ve travelled around the country for work, not only Kaunas and Klaipeda, but also Ignalina and Salcininkai. I’m looking forward to the opportunity to see a bit more of Lithuania for pleasure, for example returning to the Curonian Spit again this year, or visiting some of the national parks north of Vilnius.
I’ve enjoyed exploring Vilnius, particularly, as a history graduate, getting under the surface of Vilnius’ history and all the different cultural influences which have made the city what it is. I’ve developed an interest in Vilnius Baroque, and my favourite churches are the Orthodox Church of the Holy Spirit – because of the way it melds different cultural influences – and Bernardine Church for the carved altars. I therefore regret that my Lithuanian is unlikely to be anywhere good enough to read Silver Rerum.
I am learning Lithuanian, I like knowing more about the country through the language, but not with enough time to become very proficient.
Claire Lawrence is the plenipotentiary and extraordinary ambassador of the United Kingdom to Lithuania