Brunei-UK ties set to reach new heights, says outgoing envoy

Aziz Idris

For outgoing British High Commissioner to Brunei Darussalam Richard Lindsay, coming to the Sultanate was his first international posting as a diplomatic envoy. Three years later, he recalled the ‘symbolic relationship’ in Brunei-United Kingdom (UK) relations and shared fond memories of his tenure as he bids adieu to the country today.

In an interview at the British High Commission office in Bandar Seri Begawan yesterday, he said the high commission sought to update the UK-Brunei relations through high-level visits, work exchanges and local initiative support.

During Lindsay’s tenure, the high commission facilitated visits from the British royal families including His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales, the heir to the British throne, and Her Royal Highness the Duchess of Cornwall as part of their four-nation Commonwealth tour in 2017.

Meanwhile, Britain’s Prince Edward and Princess Sophie, the Earl and Countess of Wessex were among the star-studded guest list for the Golden Jubilee Celebration of His Majesty Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah Mu’izzaddin Waddaulah ibni Al-Marhum Sultan Haji Omar ‘Ali Saifuddien Sa’adul Khairi Waddien, Sultan and Yang Di-Pertuan of Brunei Darussalam’s Accession to the Throne in the same year.

It reflected the symbolic bilateral relations that form a bond between the two nations.

He expressed admiration to His Majesty the Sultan and Yang Di-Pertuan of Brunei Darussalam whom he described as a ruler “very close to his people”.

“I’m honoured to have been invited to the palace for several events, but the one that will have lasting memory would be the Istana open house during Hari Raya celebrations. It was truly an amazing experience. It reflected the unique traditions of the Bruneian people.”

He hoped bilateral cooperation between Brunei and the UK will reach new heights as Britian formally exits the European Union (EU). “As I have said before there is no direct impact from Brexit on Brunei because the country’s trade with the EU is very little. This is an opportunity for our bilateral trading relations to grow further.”

Outgoing British High Commissioner to Brunei Darussalam Richard Lindsay during an interview. PHOTO: AZIZ IDRIS

Lindsay, who helmed the high commission in Brunei since 2017, said Britain’s network in defence played a big role in bolstering relations between both nations. This can be seen with the presence of the British Garrison in maintaining security and persistent engagement between British and Bruneian navies, with British warships making four visits to the sultanate in the past year.

“We’re doing more work with the Bruneian armed forces, and working closer with other partners around the region on building broader defence cooperation,” he added.

Under his leadership, the high commission worked with local NGOs to engage the community on various matters linked mostly to education and the environment. He was in the limelight after running the entire length of Brunei’s coastline last November to raise awareness on the impact of climate change and how it threatens the environment.

“I personally focussed on the environment as it is very close to my heart.

“It is the reason why I embarked on the challenge to run the full length (130km) of Brunei’s incredible coastline. “

Apart from the natural beauties Brunei has to offer, he was also struck by the ‘warmth’ of
its people.

“In my three years in office, engaging with government officials and community projects, I always felt the general warmth of being welcome.”

Commenting of the swift action to combat COVID-19 in Brunei, he said, “Brunei has been absolutely excellent on coping with COVID-19 (49 days without cases). Now we are looking to recover from the impact of the virus by rebuilding the economy.”

“As Brunei assumes chairmanship of the next ASEAN Summit and Britain to host the United Nations Climate Change Conference, I believe this is an opportunity for both nations to lead discussion on low carbon economy and cutting greenhouse gasses for the future,” he said.

John Virgoe will replace Richard Lindsay when he leaves his post for a position at the UK Foreign Office in London.