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Kingdom urged not to ‘undersell’

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Bahrain has been acknowledged for its warmth, vibrance, and genuineness by the outgoing British Ambassador, Roderick Drummond. However, he emphasised the need for the kingdom to overcome its tendency to ‘undersell’ itself.

Expressing his anticipation for his upcoming post in the region, Mr Drummond highlighted the significance of the developing GCC Free Trade Agreement (FTA) in further strengthening the 200-year-old UK-Bahrain bilateral ties.

The recent fourth round of UK-GCC negotiations for an FTA, held in London last month, projected a longterm increase of at least 16 per cent in trade with the GCC.

“It is amazing to see how people here genuinely get along (in Bahrain) – the freedom of religion and the links between different communities – it’s real, it’s warm, and it’s vibrant,” said Mr Drummond.

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“You see it in people’s houses. It doesn’t happen easily in other parts of the region. I feel Bahrain has a trait of underselling itself; people are shy by nature, and I keep encouraging people to show the world what they have done.”

In an exclusive interview with Bahrain This Week, Mr Drummond expressed optimism for the ‘next phase’ of the UK’s engagements with the region, as the GCC nations are coming forward with a common vision. The ambassador reflected on Bahrain-UK bilateral ties with significant growth in trade, investment, and employment, with jobs nearly tripling post-Covid. He also cited that education, defence, security, and justice have been strengthened through reforms.

“We have 200 years of history, and we’ve really gone from strength to strength – trade and investment to benefit both countries, jobs in both countries, which almost tripled in this last period, especially post-Covid, that’s great to see, and there is more to come on that front. And we see the educational ties between the two nations strengthening in many important areas. Defence and security are still there as bulwarks in the relationship. And our naval support facility and the royal navy working through that across the region with allies are doing a fantastic job day and night to keep us all safe. And we have also done great work, together with different ministries and institutions, to help strengthen justice, the rule of law, and the reforms that Bahrain has been engaged in over this last period. It has been a real
privilege to work so closely with key interlocutors, and I think they’ve done an exceptional job in those areas of reform.”

He also explained the UK’s steps to further engage with the region by easing travel through smoother visa systems and waivers, as well as the Electronic Travel Authorisation which is being rolled out in February.

“The GCC FTA is getting to the critical stage of negotiation, and we hope to achieve it next year. This can drive a lot of dynamic relations between the UK and all of its partners in the region on a larger scale than just in one country. That can help link education and investment to everybody’s benefit. That’s one of the reasons why we’ve also tried to free up people’s movement by making changes to visa systems and putting visa waivers in place to help people travel quickly and flexibly. Next February, we start with the Electronic Travel Authorisation the new system in which people can pay electronically and get responses quickly. They can travel up to two years back and forth flexibly to the UK. The first seven countries in the world where this is being implemented are the six GCC partners and Jordan. And that’s the measure of the trusted relationships we have with people here. We want people to come to the UK to study, for tourism, and for business, and we want our friends to come to this part of the world with so much going on. It is a very exciting time.”

Looking at his tenure of over four years in the kingdom, he highlighted the trade and investment progress and Bahrain being lifted off the UK’s list of countries concerned about human rights as major achievements. Covid helped in getting to know people closer and, in turn, making stronger bonds with them, he added. “We got to know some people incredibly well, and that certainly helped my mental health while keeping us going through some dark times. I think it intensified our friendships with some of our friends, and the great thing about saying goodbye is that it’s not farewell forever. You can take your friendships with you and keep in touch with people, and we certainly plan to do that.”

Six months after Mr Drummond assumed office, the pandemic period set in, which he said threw some challenges amidst being “an extraordinary period”.

“It was amazing to see the fantastic effort that the government and authorities made to manage the situation very well and keep us all safe. That intensified our collaboration in a variety of spaces like health, science, and so on. Things have come out of that much stronger. We all learned how to work differently.”

He added that the period was used to rebuild the embassy in Manama, a building that dates back to 1954. Recollecting some of his engagements with the youth in the country, Mr Drummond was confident of the new generation’s readiness to tackle global sustainability and climate crises.

“Meeting the next generation was interesting, be it at the Bahraini schools, British schools, or universities, and speaking of their hopes and dreams of the future, they are very confident; there’s so much talent coming through. They are working very hard and getting ready for the new challenges. And when I talk to them, they’re not daunted by challenges like sustainability, the climate crisis, and so on, as that is something we need to tackle with increasing urgency. But these young folks know that, and they are equipping themselves with the skills, and it comes naturally to them.” Mr Drummond was conferred with the prestigious Order of BahrainFirst Class by His Majesty the King earlier this month, which he said was “something of really high significance.” The merit, a personal decision by His Majesty, comes in recognition of his outstanding efforts to further consolidate UK-Bahrain bilateral ties.

“I also think it reflects really well on my team and on the work that the whole embassy has done over this last period,” said Mr Drummond, reflecting on the opportunity that was given to him along with his deputy and wife to say farewell to the king. “He (His Majesty) is such a delightful man to talk to,” he noted.

Mr Drummond will return to the UK and will be back in the region next summer on a different assignment. “…somewhere in the Arab world, and I’m really looking forward to coming back because, I love the people, I love the coffee. So I’m really glad to be coming back to a new post, but I’m also going to get a chance (as of now) to reconnect in the UK to do some language training, and I’ll be there, closer to family.”

The new British ambassador-designate, Alistair Long, is expected to assume office next week. Bahrain is home to approximately 5,000 Britons, which is a mixture of permanent residents and professionals employed in several fields including education, accountancy, law, medicine, engineering, architecture, and more.

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