As trade talks between the United Kingdom and the European Union continue post-Brexit-day, the UK is looking to strengthen economic ties with ASEAN as a region, with Brunei Darussalam being a key part of this emerging multilateral relationship. 

This was said by the newly appointed High Commissioner to Brunei Darussalam, John Virgoe during an interview with the local media recently. 

“We see Brunei as the UK’s closest partner and best friend in Southeast Asia and that has been true for at least 120 years (and this) is particularly important for us at the moment,” he said. 

“As you know, we left the European Union earlier this year, and we are going through the process of resetting and recalibrating both our diplomatic and economic ties with the wider world,” he added. 

“The (UK) government has committed to what we’re calling a tilt towards the Indo-Pacific, and I think ASEAN plays an important in that, and in our relationship with ASEAN, Brunei is an absolutely key part of that relationship,” continued the UK envoy. 

Virgoe proceeded to outline three main priorities that he will carry out during his term, first and foremost is ensuring that the ties between the UK and Brunei remain strong, that it “continues into the 2020s and beyond”. 

The high commissioner shared how UK-Brunei’s ties are historic yet current, adding that he wants to ensure that that the relationship between the two countries will remain current, for the benefit of the new generation of Bruneians and British people. 

Moreover, his second priority lies in building the relationship between the UK and ASEAN, with the UK already in the midst of applying to become a dialogue partner for ASEAN. 

“This really is an auspicious moment because Brunei is about to take over the chairmanship of ASEAN next year, so its a very good opportunity for us to work closely with the government here, on our shared ambitions for a closer UK-ASEAN relationship,” he continued. 

The newly appointed British high commissioner went on to his third priority which is climate change, having personally worked on climate change issues during his previous role at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in London. 

Touching more towards the UK’s “tilt towards the Indo-Pacific”, Virgoe noted how the region’s economical and political weight has grown, with Southeast Asia located smack-dab in the middle of it. 

“I think this why we are focussing more on ASEAN in recent years. I would say, three, four years ago, we have had a good bilateral relationship with each of the 10 members of ASEAN, but we didn’t look at ASEAN as a bloc,” he explained. 

“That thinking has changed, we now have a dedicated ambassador in Jakarta who is the UK ambassador to ASEAN and our ministers are trying to deepen that relationship, making it more than just the sum of 10 bilateral relationships,” he continued. 

“It’s that regional thinking that’s now important, and I would say Brunei plays an important part in that not only as a member but as next year’s chair (of ASEAN),” he added. 

During the interview, Virgoe had also commended the sultanate for its efforts in eradicating community transmission of the COVID-19 virus, expressing gratitude as “the British community in Brunei has also benefitted from this”. 

“COVID-19 continues to be a challenge for the world, and it’s an important area of cooperation for the UK globally, but also with ASEAN… This is an issue that the whole world needs to tackle together,” added the UK envoy. 

The Bruneian  | BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN

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