There will not be significant changes in the overall relationship between the United Kingdom and Pakistan after the recent General Election in Britain, said H.E. Philip Barton, the British High Commissioner. The high-ranking western diplomat articulated his thoughts at a talk he gave at The Pakistan Institute of International Affairs on Thursday evening. He said even though now there was a different government in power in the UK the prime minister and top four senior ministers remain unchanged. “The two governments know each other well. They have a mature relationship allowing genuine partnership and where there are issues in which they differ with each other, they can discuss it without being rankled.”
He spelled out the six areas which he and his team would be focusing on during his tenure in Pakistan: furthering of business relationship between UK and Pakistan, access to EU markets, increasing the tax revenue base, regional relationships, development and security. Continued efforts will be made in making both the countries prosperous, said Mr Barton while speaking on commercial relations between Britain and Pakistan. “We are promoting Pakistani companies to the British ones, finding ways of doing business with ease. Retail sector will see a potential increase as more British brands coming into Pakistan. Information technology is another area will there be a potential increase both ways.”
The second area of their focus — access to EU markets, he said the granting of GSP Plus status to Pakistan by EU led to a big boost in trade. “I am told there was an increase of $1bn revenue. We would like Pakistani companies to have the best opportunities in EU markets.”
However, reminding his Pakistani counterparts that the special trade status came about with certain caveats such as adhering to international conventions on human rights and labour standards:
It is important that Pakistan lives up to those commitments.
How the Pakistani government collects its taxes is another area of focus. “We have to look into the eye of the British taxpayer and justify to them why we are spending their pounds on Pakistan when Pakistan is not doing enough to collect taxes from its people.” He told the sizeable audience that his government and particularly UK equivalent of the Federal Board of Revenue (i.e. HM Revenue and Customs) was providing technical assistance to Pakistan on increasing its tax revenue base.
Regional relations are another area in which UK is and will continue to play a role. He said his country was appreciative of the new chapter of relations between the new Afghan government and Pakistan and therefore:
There is an important economic and commercial interest linked to both the countries in the form of bilateral trade which is crucial to their well-being.
The recent back and forth statements emerging from the two were a cause of concern, he added. Regarding India, he said the UK had a long standing position which is that it would like India Pakistan relations to be better:
… but at the end of the day they have to decide how they want to take it forward.
They were also making efforts in health and education projects in Pakistan. Coming to security issues he said that they had undertaken quite a few capacity-building projects by training military personnel among other things.
Later speaking to Dawn about cases against Altaf Hussain, the MQM chief and a British citizen, he said the UK government’s position on it was clear that:
… it is a matter of the police and not the government.
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There will be no significant changes in Pakistan and United Kingdom’s ties following the elections in the UK. Both governments know each other pretty well and the relationship is very close.
This assurance was extended by the United Kingdom High Commissioner in Pakistan, Philip Barton, while addressing intellectuals, the media, and members of The Pakistan Institute of International Affairs at the institute on Thursday evening.
He said that the relationship between the two countries was so strong that they could discuss issues without a wrangle. Barton added that the one million people of Pakistani origin in the UK were a binding factor between the two countries and highlighted their contribution to the British economy.
He said Karachi being the commercial, economic, and industrial nerve centre of Pakistan, the UK could have a very fruitful relationship of investment in Pakistan.
When a questioner pointed out to him that the UK was now not a manufacturing economy but a service one and as such asked as to what shape the investment would take in this case, he rebutted the statement and said:
It is true that Britain did go through a phase when all manufacturing was virtually stalled but, happily, that’s all over now and, today, we are the world’s fifth largest manufacturing economy.
He said British consumer products manufacturers already had so many retail outlets in Pakistan, like Next, Debenhams, and others. Barton said the UK had been instrumental in getting Pakistan access to European markets and the GSP-plus status which upped Pakistan’s trade earnings by a billion dollars last year.
However, what was of concern to the UK was the human rights situation and the international labour standards that went with the GSP-plus status that Pakistan was under obligation to abide by. He expressed concern over the state of human rights in Pakistan.
Barton said the UK, and for that matter the EU, were deadly against capital punishment, not just in Pakistan, but the world over as it was a total miscarriage of justice. “What,” he said, “would it be like if after the hanging it turned out that the accused was innocent and had been wrongly implicated?”
He highlighted the UK’s contribution in the field of education to Pakistan and said that his country had facilitated the admission of six million underprivileged children to low-cost schools in Sindh.
As for the highly complex India-Pakistan ties, he said that India and Pakistan must resolve their outstanding differences in a spirit of cordiality to stave off security dangers stalking the region.
Talking about the post-election scenario in the UK, he said that, as promised, Scotland would be getting due devolution, especially in the realms of taxation, education, and law. Scotland, he said, would have greater say in the running of its own affairs.
As for the ties with the European countries, the new UK government planned to hold an in-out referendum on the issue in 2017 (also known as Brexit see the Tory Manifesto for 2015 General Election for full details). He said that the one of the points of contention was the burning immigration issue.
While the EU rules called for unfettered immigration among member countries, the UK, he (arguably controversially) said could hardly afford that because immigrants from other European countries came and grabbed jobs which was creating unemployment among the local population.
While the UK, he said, was not totally against intra-Europe immigration, he said there must be checks and balances to draw the line somewhere so that it would not tell on the countries’ economic situation.
Secondly, he said, there must be more competitive economic reform. London, he said, was the venue of 80 percent of the economic transactions in Europe and as such it must be given a greater say.