Respect and ambition — that sums up UAE-UK relations. These were themes that kept coming across during British Prime Minister David Cameron’s two-day visit to the UAE. This was Cameron’s second visit to the UAE whilst in office, which gives a flavour of the priority he gives to this relationship. And I have had the honour of accompanying him on both occasions and seeing firsthand how his relationship with the UAE has grown into an honest and open friendship based on the utmost respect. Yes, we have been friends and allies for 40 years and longer; yes we have learned much from each other during that time; but it is the potential for the future as we develop together that is the exciting bit.
This was an ambitious visit, with nine individual meetings and events in four different locations. Clearly the most important elements were Cameron’s meetings with President His Highness Shaikh Khalifa Bin Zayed Al Nahyan; His Highness Prime Minister Shaikh Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, and Shaikh Mohammad Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces.
It is essential to discuss the business of international politics when leaders meet, but I was also struck by how easy the conversations became about shared interests — from horses to planes, and everything in between. I do not think Cameron had ever appreciated quite what is involved in becoming a world champion in endurance riding. The presence of both the business and defence secretaries really brought home to me the depth and breadth of the relationship. There are many reasons why more than 100,000 British people live here — they like this society, its leadership and its people. They feel safe here and they prosper; I know the prime minister got a strong flavour of the enormous warmth towards the British from all his meetings.
I was also delighted the prime minister was able to fit in a relaxed ride on the Dubai Metro — in the company of Shaikh Ahmad Bin Saeed Al Maktoum, President of Dubai Civil Aviation and Chairman and Mattar Al Tayer, Chairman of the Board and Executive Director of the Roads and Transport Authority.
It gave both Cameron and me great pride to see British firms Atkins and Serco contributing to the building and running of the metro — illustrating the best of British innovation, design and delivery. This took them to the Dubai World Trade Centre where the Big 5 Construction Exhibition was taking place. Here, and at several other points in the visit, Cameron spoke with a wide selection of the large British business and wider community in the UAE and he was thankful to our hosts for the warmth with which the UAE has embraced them all.
My personal highlight? The moment when the prime minister threw me his phone when it went off during his invigorating question-and-answer session with students at the spectacular new Abu Dhabi campus of Zayed University. Apparently, the look on my face as I nearly dropped it on to the lap of a very senior Emirati sitting next to me will be used on diplomatic training courses for years to come ... Cameron really enjoyed the chance to meet and interact with a wide range of Emirati students on a full range of issues.
It was clear from the energy and enthusiasm of the students that the bilateral relationship we are celebrating is not limited to governments, but covers people-to-people and student-to-student bonds. What came across really strong was the appetite to keep sharing thoughts and ideas and to have — in the prime minister’s own words — “no no-go areas”.
We put innovation at the heart of a fantastic session chaired by Cameron and Shaikh Mohammad Bin Zayed, which looked at possibilities for further collaboration in hi-tech sectors from aviation to health and defence, the outcome of which is reflected in a joint communique. The communiqué neatly captures the sense of partnership and respect that binds this most unique and longstanding partnership for now, but for future generations. And the words of Shaikh Abdullah Bin Zayed at the end of the visit was the perfect sum of where we are in this partnership and where we want to be:
“The Prime Minister’s visit is further recognition of the vast potential for the bi-lateral relationship at every level. There is clearly a common sentiment that our deep historic ties can evolve to become an alliance for the future that continuously benefits both countries. Ours can be a partnership based on the closest possible political, economic, and defence collaboration.”
Watch this space …
Dominic Jermey is the British ambassador to the UAE.