UK and Lithua­nia ties

The Baltic Times - - FRONT PAGE - Li­nas Jegele­vi­cius

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

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