An Exceptional Year for Britain
October 26, 2012
Britain's ambassador to Poland, Robin Barnett, talks to Ewa Hancock
You have been ambassador to Poland for a year now. What are your thoughts on current relations between London and Warsaw?
I think current relations between London and Warsaw are excellent. If we look at the political side, we have just seen a very successful quadrilateral ministerial meeting involving Foreign Secretary William Hague and Defence Secretary Philip Hammond, who came to Warsaw for meetings with their counterparts and President Bronisław Komorowski. The schedule of ministerial visits in both directions and official contacts is intense and this demonstrates the identity of views between our two countries on many issues. The commercial relationship, too, is developing well. I have just been to London with a Polish rail delegation headed by Andrzej Massel, the deputy transport minister responsible for rail. This and other sectors, including energy, especially nuclear energy and shale gas, are high-potential areas where we are convinced it will be possible to develop our commercial relationship even further in future.
Poland and Britain both belong to the group of the six largest EU member states. What views do we have in common about the future of the EU and where are the differences?
There are clear differences between us on some aspects of the future of the EU. This reflects both our different geostrategic positions, but more specifically, the reality that it is Poland’s firm intention to become a member of the eurozone, whereas the British government has made clear that it has no such intention. However, there are a range of critical issues where our two countries strongly agree. These include the importance of the EU adopting a really strong agenda for growth, which will make the EU significantly more competitive, not least by completing the single market and the digital market, and by pushing increased innovation and better regulation. On future EU enlargement, too, we share the perspective that the EU should be open to further enlargement so long as applicant countries fully meet the standards expected.
How important were the 2012 Olympics for Britain?
The 2012 Olympics and Paralympics were without doubt one of the most important events to take place in the UK for decades. Not only did they showcase the UK’s ability to put together an extraordinarily complex undertaking on time and on budget, as well as a compelling image of a modern, highly innovative and diverse Britain, but they were also an occasion for great national pride. Pride in the achievements of our fantastic Olympic and Paralympic teams, but also pride in our ability to put on such a fantastic spectacle and to welcome so many people from across the globe.
The Paralympics were arguably the best organized and most popular in history. Is that down to the British character?
I think certainly the tolerant and open British character contributed to the success of the Paralympics, but first and foremost, I believe they were incredibly successful because people recognised that this was a highly competitive sporting event and that in many ways Paralympians are even more sporting heroes than their Olympic counterparts because of the many obstacles that they have had to overcome. I would like to take this opportunity to pay a particular tribute to the fantastic Polish Paralympic team, which far exceeded expectations, winning no fewer than 14 gold medals and finishing ninth in the overall medals table. Many congratulations to them.
Could you sum up 2012, which saw the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee as well as the Olympics and Paralympics?
2012 has been an exceptional year for the UK. Despite difficult economic times, we have seen a range of remarkable events. Just a few years ago it would be unimaginable that a British cyclist, Bradley Wiggins, could win the Tour de France. The idea that Britain could finish third in both the Olympic and Paralympic Games would also have been seen as highly unlikely. The event which I think was no surprise was the remarkable scenes that accompanied the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee. The whole nation celebrated together the remarkable reign of Her Majesty the Queen. Here in Warsaw, we at the embassy greatly enjoyed hosting our own Queen’s Diamond Jubilee street party. Even the weather cooperated.