On the eve of the British Days in Dubrovnik event we caught up with Andrew Dalgleish Her Majesty’s Ambassador to the Republic of Croatia. With the deals on Brexit on the horizon and Great Britain’s new role in Europe the Ambassador explained why Brexit will affect us all but that by working together the future looks bright. The Ambassador will open the British Days in Dubrovnik event and is excited to highlight the many connections between the city and Great Britain.
After the recent Conservative Party Conference, with both the Prime Minister and Boris Johnson creating a stir, would the Chequers Deal gain support of the parliament?
The Chequers proposal is the British Government's contribution to the negotiation between the UK and the European Union on how to address some of the more difficult problems that will need to be overcome in order to reach a deal that would enable a smooth and orderly Brexit and deliver the deep, special relationship that we are aiming for after the UK has left the EU. Brexit will affect us all - not just the UK, as some people might think. It will affect the EU as well as each and every EU Member State and we are working hard to try to minimize those effects on people and businesses. In the negotiations, parties aim to find a middle ground.
The Chequers proposal is just that: British Government's attempt to offer solutions that would work for both, the UK and the EU. As with any proposal, it's only natural that some people might not like it.
Mr Johnson made it clear he did not believe it delivers what Brexit means for him. Naturally, he's entitled to his opinion - but his is not the view of the Government. What Chequers does is address very directly the challenging issue of how the UK would clearly leave the EU and no longer benefit from all its advantages but avoid the common concern that we all share of creating a physical border between Northern Ireland and Ireland, for example. We live in a free and lively democracy, thank goodness, and Parliamentarians will be free to decide whether whatever deal is finally agreed is something they support. Members of Parliament will all be aware of the important goal - shared with our EU partners - of not undermining the Good Friday Agreement for Northern Ireland. Chequers is one way of doing that, and I'm sure Parliament will be conscious of that.
If no deal is reached before the deadline how challenging would it be for the UK to operate with “no deal?”
We are confident that there will be a deal. Yes, that requires determination, a good will, honest intentions and not a small bit of flexibility and creativity, but all sides have said that this is their top priority. I believe the political will is there to do a deal. Still, any responsible government has to prepare for the scenarios which we don't want to see but which might happen nevertheless. That's why we're preparing for an outcome that none of us want, a possible no deal. It wouldn't be a challenge that the UK would face alone - all member states would be affected and would need to figure out how to operate without an agreement in place.
Prime Minister May's top concern is that citizens should not become victims of a no deal outcome; that is why she has said that the UK wants to continue treating EU citizens living in the UK in the way outlined earlier in the negotiations and that we hope that our EU partner governments will agree and offer the same reassurance to British citizens living in their countries.
It certainly would be a challenge for all partners to operate with a no deal scenario but the PM has also been very clear that leaving with no deal would be better than leaving with a bad deal. That's why we're all so focused on delivering the good deal that everybody wants to see.
And if “no deal” how would this effect the British citizens living in Croatia and the hundreds of thousands of UK tourists that visit Croatia every year?
I don't think anyone in Croatia or the UK wants to see British tourists suddenly prevented from coming to Croatia. We estimate that 800,000 Brits came to Croatia this year - and we spend more per visitor than any other nation expect the USA. It would be a tragedy if those apartment owners, restaurants, car hire firms, hotels etc suddenly had no more British tourists visiting just because we weren't able to reach a deal. That's why we're aiming for a good deal. And why we're saying that if a good deal isn't possible then we should aim to minimise the disruption to citizens across the EU. If we - the UK and the EU, including Croatia of course - are not able to get it right then the risk is that ordinary citizens and voters are the ones most affected.
Can Brexit be stopped? Is there room for another referendum, a so called people’s vote?
The British people were asked whether the United Kingdom should be a member of the European Union and they said no. More people voted for that decision than have voted in any other decision in the history of the United Kingdom. The British government is delivering on that democratic decision. "Stopping Brexit' is not under consideration. There's much talk of a 'people's vote' - that is what happened already in June 2016. It's important to understand that any second referendum would not change the outcome which is that the UK will leave the EU. The Article 50 process has started and there is no legal mechanism to stop it, regardless of whether a second referendum is held.
On the 18th of October the crunch EU summit on Brexit will see the European Commission President, Jean-Claude Juncker, present his Brexit plan. If, as predicted, the EU’s plan and the British government’s plan are poles apart would this mean that a “no deal” is the most likely outcome?
Let's not speculate. The European Commission works under instruction from Croatia and the other Member States. Let's wait to see what Croatia and the other Member States tell President Juncker and Mr Barnier what they want to achieve. We remain confident that a deal will be done.
Immigration played a central role in the Brexit movement and now Prime Minister May has revealed her plans for immigration post-Brexit. However, her plan seems to have angered both the EU and the harder line Brexiters in her own party. In your opinion will she listen to her “leavers” or to British businesses who have expressed concern with her plans?
The Prime Minister has been very clear about the value that migrant workers bring to the United Kingdom. We value the diversity and the talent and the economic contribution they make. But voters also made it clear that one of the issues that concerns them is the ability for workers to move with no restriction at all. That free movement is a fundamental principle of the founding treaties and of the single market and this is why the Prime Minister said clearly after the referendum that since we want to have control over the movement of people, over who comes to the UK for work, should we wish so, the UK can no longer be a party to the treaties nor a member of the single market. Exercising control is not the same as stopping completely. The Government has no intention of closing the door on migrant workers but to be able to decide, for the first time since we joined the EU, which workers will have access to our labour market whilst allowing businesses to recruit the talent they need.
What in your opinion are the positive sides of Brexit? And could Brexit prompt other EU countries to leave?
Other EU countries are capable of deciding on their own destinies. The people and Governments of those countries will always look at themselves and their own situation when making important decisions. In that sense, let's not overestimate the influence of the UK. And, most importantly, we should not mix the very different backgrounds and experiences. The UK's position is unique. We have been EU members for 40 years. The UK economy is different from that of many other member states in that more of our exports go outside the European Union than go into it - that's fairly unusual in the EU. We will be able to develop the opportunities in those non-EU markets more freely than we can as an EU member. But we will remain a very close partner of the EU with a quite unique relationship when it comes to our ongoing economic relationship and our desire and ability to share and coordinate on issues such as internal security (policing, arrest warrants etc), regional security and defence.
There is a theory that Brexit was in fact a plan to reposition the UK outside of the European Union and closer to the mega powers of Asia. Membership of the EU could hinder future opportunities with China, India and other Asian powers, but Brexit would open the door. As Britain has always had a knack of recognising tomorrow’s opportunities is there any fire around this smoke?
The people were asked a simple question about whether the UK should be a member of the European Union or not. What informed the way they chose to vote was an entirely personal matter. The theoretical hows and whys are irrelevant. What matters is that the UK will be leaving the EU on 29 March 2019.
You are coming to Dubrovnik to open the British Days in Dubrovnik event. These manifestations are important to build, or rebuild, relations and opportunities for the future. What messages are you sending with this festival of Britain in Dubrovnik?
There has been a long tradition of cultural engagement between the UK and Dubrovnik, with some of our most famous actors coming to the city to perform Shakespeare and the like. Mayor Mato Franković has responded enthusiastically to our request to hold a festival celebrating some of the things are so quickly identified with Britain - we'll have a London bus as a centre-piece of our attraction, for example. The message is quite simple - when you have something good, you want to share that thing with a friend. This is how Croatians have welcomed me to this country, wanting to share with me what's great about being in Croatia. This is our way of sharing with the people of Dubrovnik some of the things that we think are great about the UK. So I'd be delighted to greet in person as many people as possible to enjoy some of the fun attractions we are sharing - for the kids to come and try our 'escape room' on the top deck of the bus, for the adults to enjoy a cup of tea or a glass of gin and then a screening of Hamlet starring Benedict Cumberbatch. It's just a little reminder of how much we enjoy each other's company.
Dubrovnik is an extremely interesting destination for UK tourists, with Brits being the most numerous for the past five years. Why, in your opinion, is Dubrovnik so popular with UK tourists?
I believe that UK tourists come to Dubrovnik because they appreciate immediately the long and rich history of this amazing city. It is culturally fascinating. It is aesthetically outstanding - the beauty of its red roofs and stone walls posed in contrast to the blueness of the Adriatic makes it unique and very special. The quality of the food is exceptional - although I personally know that this Croatian trait is not unique to Dubrovnik!
Can you see this event “British Days in Dubrovnik” being a traditional, annual event and are you planning any further such events around Croatia?
If people of Dubrovnik would like it, I would be delighted to make it something of a tradition. And yes, we're very aware how much Croatia has to offer so it is our aim to organize celebrations of British and Croatian links in as many places in Croatia as possible. I myself often travel around Croatia to get to know this whole country better, to meet decision-makers, business people, young talents, people who live here and make the tissue of this country, to deepen our relationship and forge the new ones. And that's the whole point: Brexit will happen, but our relationship is here to stay.