As The Pacific Northwest continues to grow economically, trade partners such as the United Kingdom are taking interest in new opportunities presented by the IT and biomedical industries. The UK opened a Government Office in Seattle in 2013 to facilitate deeper political and economic cooperation and to promote bilateral ties between the United States and Britain. It is among a number of regional diplomatic missions that have opened over the past several years. The Ellison Center sat down with UK Consul Robin Twyman to talk about how the Government Office is deepening the UK’s relations with the Pacific Northwest and how Brexit will affect British relations with Eastern Europe and Russia.
What is the British Government Office in Seattle?
What I run is the one-person UK Government Office here in Seattle. I’m a full-time British government official. It’s a one-person office and a satellite of the British Consulate General in San Francisco. I report up to the Consulate General in San Francisco and then to the British Embassy in Washington, DC. I am part of that network. We have eight consulates general throughout the United States and now five UK government offices around the US. After we proved it would work, we rolled it out to four other cities.
My focus is almost purely on commercial diplomacy. It’s about boosting trade and investment between Washington State and the United Kingdom, it’s about supporting science and innovation, and it’s about policy work, which has an economic prosperity dimension to it. So that might be climate change, for example, where we can share the UK’s cap-and-trade experience with Washington State. Or making arguments for trade liberalization and greater market access.
We set up this office in January 2013 as we were coming out of the Great Recession. We, the British government, took a good, hard look at ourselves and asked, “Are we well positioned to make the most of the trade and investment opportunities that we need to drive our economy?” Generally, we thought we were, but there were some gaps. Our biggest trade and investment partner is the United States, so we thought—are we where we need to be in the United States? Well, almost. We need to be in the cities that are growing. And of course, Seattle was one of the cities that was growing. Its economy is growing strongly and it also has a lot of similar strengths as the UK, particularly aerospace, tech, and life sciences.
What was the reason for opening a UK Government Office in Seattle?
The UK and the US are really lucky to enjoy an enduring special relationship that covers so many aspects of our daily lives, particularly things like enterprise, democracy, freedom, similar approaches on trade, defense, and security. We come at life from a very similar place. We have a shared history, language, and people-to-people links. Take Washington State, for example. We had a relationship with Washington State before it became Washington State because of the Vancouver expeditions in the 1790s.
When you’re looking at the business relationship, we are looking at mutual wins. We want to help Washington State companies grow internationally through the UK. That in turn helps our economy. If you’re looking at the tech sector, for example, Microsoft, Amazon, Expedia all have a really strong UK footprint—not just for the UK, which is a population of 60 million people and the fifth largest economy in the world, but also as a stepping stone to Europe, or to Africa, or the Middle East.
And that can apply to other Seattle tech companies too. Take Tableau Software, an up-and-coming small-to-medium-size enterprise that had a fantastic IPO a few of years ago. They have a strong and growing presence in London.
We offer the UK as a way for Seattle companies, whether it’s tech, aerospace, life sciences, retail, a way to reach an even bigger market in a familiar environment.
Do you see the UK as a conduit for opening up cooperation with continental Europe?
It certainly has done that—but not just Europe but the Middle East and Africa as well, because we are so well connected, whether it’s air links via Heathrow and Gatwick Airports or the financial services that the UK offers. We also have a time zone advantage. You can do business with every major city in world on the same business day in London, just because we are on Greenwich Mean Time. So yes, we are a conduit to Europe, but also into other countries.
Clearly, Brexit is going to be a factor into how companies think about the future. Our position, which was stated by the prime minister in speech she gave on January 17, is that there are 12 principles that we want to pursue through our Brexit negotiations. Among those is our wish to have frictionless trade of goods and services between the UK and the European Union. We still want movement of people between the UK and the European Union.
If you look at the trade that happens between the UK and the European Union, it’s big on both sides. The UK exports 230 billion pounds worth of goods and services to the EU each year. The EU exports 290 billion pounds worth of goods and services to the UK. You look at the funding that EU startups raised—1.1 trillion pounds of that funding came from the City of London. So Europe has a strong interest, just as we do, in keeping those markets open between the EU and the UK post-Brexit, and that is what we will be arguing for and that is what we will explain to the business community here in Seattle.
On the subject of the European Union, what is the UK position on the Eastern Partnership Program and how does the UK view partnership with countries such as Ukraine and Georgia in light of Brexit and changing dynamics between the UK and the EU?
The British public has taken the decision that it wants to leave the European Union. We have to respect that. That said, we still support a strengthening of the European Union. We see the value of the European Union. Let’s not forget that it’s because of the European Union that we’ve had peace, stability, and prosperity in Europe since the end of World War II. That’s unprecedented. We don’t want to see that undermined. We want to see the European Union continue to grow, but it will happen without the UK being a part of it.
My foreign secretary, Boris Johnson, has gone on record supporting Turkey’s continued bid for EU membership. I think the values that the European Union espouses, particularly human rights, civil rights, prosperity, transparency, and rule of law, are great values that we hope other countries around the world will adopt, and I think that continues to be a good attraction for joining the European Union. We would support the expansion of the EU.
How does the UK see its future relations with Russia, economic and political, under the current sanctions and political issues?
It’s important to remember that the UK is not just a member of the European Union. We are also a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council. We are also a member of NATO—in fact, the second largest contributor to NATO in terms of budget, troops, and equipment. So we are operational in a number of different organizations internationally.
When it comes to Russia, we respect the right of countries to pursue their legitimate self interest through the established international rules-based systems. Where we have a problem is when we see Russia annexing Crimea, or we see Russia sponsoring militias in the Donbas. We see Russia having supplied the weapons that brought down MH17. We see Russia’s activity in Syria being less about Daesh and more about attacking the Syrian opposition with little regard for innocent civilian lives. We also have a problem with cyberwarfare by Russia against critical infrastructure and the democratic process in Europe. We are concerned about Russsian cyberattacks against the US presidential elections last year.
These issues need to be confronted, and that is why we believe we need to do that in two particular ways: One is through deterrence, but while remaining in a dialogue–a guarded engagement is what my prime minister has called it. We continue to support strong NATO action. I mentioned that the UK is one of five NATO members that does meet that 2 percent GDP commitment to NATO, and we continue to encourage the other NATO members to up their contribution. We support the various task forces that NATO has approved—the High Readiness Joint Task Force and the task force on the eastern border, to which we have contributed 900 troops. We also support continued sanctions until Russia’s behavior changes.
But we do need dialogue, because without that dialogue there is a huge risk of miscalculation with dire consequences. We also support dialogue because we have other shared interests. Both Russia and the UK, and other countries around the world, have a strong interested in the continuation of the Iran nuclear deal. We both have an interest in making sure that we are tackling global terrorism or issues coming out of Afghanistan. We both have an interest in ensuring that we can guard against the proliferation of nuclear weapons and ensuring nonproliferation. It comes back to what my prime minister said—a realistic guarded engagement. We will do that bilaterally and in concert with our allies and through the other organizations that we belong to.
So to return to the Pacific Northwest, where do you see opportunities for deeper cooperation between this region and the UK?
Let me point to a few things that we have done. Within a year of us opening the office, we signed a memorandum of understanding with Governor Inslee on climate change, because Governor Inslee has a very strong agenda on promoting actions to tackle climate change and promote a green economy. We have a strong track record on that in the UK, so this was an opportunity to share our experience of setting up a cap-and-trade scheme and establishing a green economy. We have the largest offshore wind farm installed anywhere in the world. So we signed this memorandum of understanding to formalize that dialogue.
On the trade and investment side, over 2015-2016 we attracted about 8 million pounds worth of foreign direct investment, which created 1,000 jobs in the UK across a number of sectors. There is clearly an appetite for that and we want to continue to encourage more of that.
I think it is fair to say that both Washington State and the UK are free-trade entities. Despite Brexit, the UK continues to be a beacon for free trade, and we are very keen to see a free-trade agreement between the UK and the US once we leave the European Union. That has the support of our prime minister and President Trump. Of course, it’s a lot easier to get these things done when you have support from your stakeholders in your respective countries, so we are looking for an opportunity to engage Washington State stakeholders in the business community, the civil community, and the political communities to tell them about the benefits of a free-trade agreement with the UK.
Since establishing the UK Government Office in Seattle, we have hosted two visits by the UK Secretary of State for Health, Jeremy Hunt. He signed an agreement with Seattle’s Virginia Mason in 2015 to have Virginia Mason provide mentoring and support to five national health trusts in the UK. The value of that contract is about 12.5 million pounds. We are taking advantage of Seattle’s hospital and healthcare expertise to try and improve patient safety and service delivery in the UK’s National Health Service.
Here in Seattle you have any number of precision medicine, stem cell medicine, oncology, genetics research and services going on. It’s less pharmaceutical and more care and diagnostics. On the other side of the Atlantic, the UK has the National Health Service, the largest integrated health service in the world. We have five of the world’s top ten pre-clinical universities. Taking that a step further into global health, Washington State has the Gates Foundation, PATH and WSU. The UK’s global health scientific excellence is backed by the second largest aid budget in the world. . So we see a lot of potential for partnerships between Washington State’s and the UK’s life sciences and global health communities in improving the health of people around the world.