British Ambassador to Kuwait Belinda Lewis

KUWAIT: The British Embassy made a press meet yesterday in the embassy, where British Ambassador to Kuwait Belinda Lewis addressed the Kuwaiti media on various topics. The following are excerpts of her address to the local press:

Regional issues
Increased stability and security in the Gulf is a shared objective for the UK and Kuwait. There are many challenges in the region and we have many concerns in common, for example, about Yemen where the situation continues to deteriorate; and in relation to Iran where we are keen to see a return to its JCPOA commitments. Both of our governments agree on the need to make the ceasefire in Gaza durable, end the cycle of violence and support a long lasting two state solution.

Kuwait has a well-deserved reputation as a regional mediator and humanitarian donor. A recent example of Kuwaiti mediation is the resolution of the GCC dispute. This year Kuwait has also supported international humanitarian appeals for Yemen and Syria and has a proud tradition in this area. The UK Minister of State for the Middle East, Rt Hon James Cleverly MP, visited Kuwait last month. He held extensive discussions with the Foreign Minister, Deputy Foreign Minister and others on a range of regional and bilateral issues.

Travel and visas
Despite the pandemic, our Visa Application Centre remains open in Kuwait. Currently, Kuwait is on the ‘Amber List’ for travel to the UK. There are detailed instructions on the UK’s www.gov.uk website which explain the steps to be taken in order to travel, and provides information about quarantine requirements.

Visas that have expired during the pandemic will not be renewed automatically. Applications for new visas can be made at the website www.gov.uk or at the Visa Application Centre at Al-Raya Tower. However travel restrictions are in place in the UK using the Red, Amber and Green system. This color coding is regularly reviewed – at the moment, every three weeks. Being vaccinated does not prevent you from carrying the virus, which is why the UK’s entry policy, like Kuwait’s, relies on PCR results.

We recognize that restricting foreigners from entering Kuwait creates many hardships and uncertainties. The Embassy is in close contact with Kuwait authorities on the entry of British Nationals in general and some specific cases, but decisions on entry are ultimately made by the Kuwait Government. The entry of British Nationals is still under consideration by the Prime Minister and the Council of Ministers. Other countries around the world, including the UK, are also restricting entry for public health reasons.

Politics
New opportunities to build on our existing strong and deep relationship are presenting themselves all the time. Traditional partnerships in Defense, trade and investments are supplemented by new links in Cyber security and technology – this year we are highlighting the particular strength of UK’s innovation and technology capabilities with our Innotech campaign.

Education links continue to grow and we are undertaking important work with the EPA on protection of the marine environment and more. There are also shared challenges to face, particularly in the areas of food security and health system resilience.

Joint Steering Group (JSG)
The JSG continues to be a strong vehicle for bilateral co-operation. The Group provides structure to progress shared objectives including Cyber; Defense; Security; Trade and Investment; Development; Health; Education; and Science and Culture. The last JSG was held virtually in 2020. The next session of the Kuwaiti-British Joint Steering Group will be held later this summer, hosted in the UK and hopefully in person if permitted.

Trade and investment
Kuwait has a historical investment relationship with the UK. The Kuwaiti Sovereign Wealth Fund was established in London in 1953 under the Kuwait Investment Office (KIO). The UK continues to welcome a wide range of corporate and private investments from Kuwait. And of course, Kuwaiti investment in the UK predates the UK’s membership of the EU and has continued since the UK’s exit from the EU.

Investor confidence remains high across the UK. We are keen to build on the support we provide to investors. Last year the British Prime Minister announced the creation of the Office for Investment (OFI). The OFI will attract the most strategic investments to the UK focused on a range of sectors including Life Sciences, Clean Energy, Technology and Infrastructure. The UK welcomes Kuwaiti investors who wish to explore these important sectors.

And of course in the other direction, Kuwait Vision 2035 offers a range of exciting opportunities for British businesses. The Department for International Trade (DIT) based at British Embassy promotes business opportunities to encourage foreign investment and export trade between the two countries.

One key project is the Kuwait Airport Expansion which includes the new state of the art Terminal 2 and the construction of the runway. British companies have played a key role in designing the new terminal, drawing on our world leading capabilities. We are also working with Kuwait on water infrastructure projects where UK companies excel in technical and advisory services.

As we approach COP26, hosted in Glasgow in November, the development of renewable energy in Kuwait is an area of huge interest. The Shaghaya project will help Kuwait meet its ambitious target for renewable energy, and I hope will draw on UK companies with expertise in design, supply chains and grid management.

On the defense side, we are working on joint naval and air defense training which will help ensure Kuwait’s security. Cybersecurity is another area where we are collaborating closely with the Kuwaiti government to address this challenge. Today we will witness the signing of an important agreement between the Commandants of the UK Defense Academy and Kuwait’s Mubarak Al-Abdullah Joint Command and Staff College.

The Mubarak Al-Abdullah Joint Command and Staff College is the only staff college in the region to be accredited by the UK Defense Academy as providing equivalent training. This Agreement will deepen an already strong relationship, binding these two important Defense Education organizations even more closely.

Education
I am proud that there are approximately 5,000 Kuwaitis studying in the UK and the next generation of students is keen to continue their education at British universities. The Ministry of Higher Education will award the next round of international scholarships between 19th June and 5th of July and Kuwait has recently published its approved list of UK university courses.

The British Council works with UK universities, with local agents, with the Ministry of Higher Education, and also helps applicants to prepare and certify their English via IELTS. The British Council and the British Embassy very much hope that the UK remains the number one destination of choice for Kuwaiti students.

Health guidelines
The United Kingdom is slowly opening up, people can now gather in groups which was not allowed last month when I was there. So these health guidelines are regularly updated. It is not true that passengers connecting flights in green list countries can enter the UK without quarantine. Accurate health and travel information must be presented upon entering the UK. Failing to provide accurate information or deliberately giving misleading information can result in fines or imprisonment and possibly both punishments.

The Military Aviation College agreement have not yet been finalized. Bilateral discussions between both the British and Kuwaiti sides are still ongoing. Kuwait still wants our support on air training, and we want to help. However, discussions and agreements always take time, we will announce updates on this matter once a final agreement has been reached.

It is too soon to tell the positive and negative impacts of Brexit. We are still busy signing agreements with countries around the world. The UK will always be a part of Europe, our people will always want to travel and do business with each other, and our security priorities are mutual. So discussions will continue on all of this. British nationals enjoy traveling and trading with European destinations such as Spain, France, and Greece. I wouldn’t expect things to drastically change. I guess we will have to wait and see.