The British Parliament held a historic vote on 8 February when the House of Commons voted for the Article 50 Bill which sets out the process for leaving the European Union. This is a further step towards fulfilling the will of the British people as expressed by the referendum of 23 June. It was a serious debate with contributions from MPs representing all parts of the UK and across the political spectrum. The debate moved to the House of Lords this week. We fully expect the UK parliamentary process to be completed in the next few weeks so that the British Prime Minister, Theresa May, can issue the Article 50 notice by the end of March.
The goal of our negotiation is clear: our desire to build a new partnership between Britain and the European Union that is in the interests of both sides. We want to see a strong and successful European Union and, of course, a strong Britain. This would be good for the European continent and for the World.
We have not rejected the values
The UK has no intention of undermining the stability of the EU, nor do we want to become more distant to our European neighbours, including those here in Slovakia. Our vote to leave the EU does not change the values we share. Nor was it an attempt to do harm to the EU or to any of its remaining member states. It was a vote to restore our tradition of parliamentary democracy, our national self-determination, and to become even more global and internationalist in action and in spirit.
We are determined to be one of the most vocal and active advocates for free trade anywhere in the world. And we will start with our closest friends and neighbours in Europe, by pursing a bold and ambitious Free Trade Agreement with the European Union, as our Prime Minister emphasised in her recent speech. An agreement that will give British companies the maximum freedom to trade with and operate within European markets – while letting European businesses do the same in Britain. The UK is Europe’s second largest market, an engine room for growth in Europe. And barrier free and tariff free trade is beneficial for all the economies of Europe.
New cars already next year
As British Ambassador in Slovakia I am delighted to see the trade between Slovakia and the UK flourish, presently reaching over €5bn. Thousands of Slovaks wake up every morning and work for firms that make products or components destined for the UK market or for UK investors in Slovakia. Personally I am also very much looking forward to the first cars rolling off the JLR production line in Nitra next year. Thanks to the rapidly expanding number of direct flights between our two countries, Slovakia has become an increasingly popular destination for UK tourists (47% increase in 2015), helping economies also in the less developed regions. And those links also work in the other direction: there are about 95,000 Slovaks that live and work in the UK. I know the UK’s vote to leave the EU club will have caused uncertainty about their future.
We offer fast decision
We believe EU citizens living in the UK make a vital contribution to our economy and our society. The British Prime Minister stands ready to move swiftly to agree arrangements for EU citizens in the UK and UK citizens currently residing in the EU. We believe this need not wait until the end of the two year negotiation period. Instead, we hope we can agree these arrangements early in order to give affected citizens and their families the certainty they desire. And the UK will keep pushing for a rapid conclusion in this area because it is the right and fair thing to do.
Andy Garth is the British ambassador to Slovakia
22. Feb 2017 at 12:00 | Andy Garth