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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 20 February 2019

UAE ambassador to UK on his mission to get visa-free entry for Emiratis

Conditions are ripe for the British authorities to allow Emirati visitors to enter the UK without a visa, says Sulaiman Al Mazroui

UAE Ambassador to the UK Sulaiman Al Mazroui at the UAE Embassy in Belgravia. Stephen Lock for The National
UAE Ambassador to the UK Sulaiman Al Mazroui at the UAE Embassy in Belgravia. Stephen Lock for The National

Conditions are ripe for the British authorities to lift the requirement that visitors from the UAE must apply for visa authorisation, the UAE ambassador to London has said.

Intensive efforts to persuade the UK to follow more than 30 other countries in Europe in allowing visa-free access are closer than ever to bearing fruit, Suleiman Al Mazroui told The National.

"London is one of the favoured destination for our people," he said, speaking in the recently opened embassy building in Belgravia.

"We have made it clear to our friends in parliament and to the Home Office that it is in the UK’s interests to remove the visa requirement. If this is done the UK will benefit a lot from extra business and tourism. It will psychologically make the flow of people coming in a lot easier.

"The UK doesn’t really have a lot of risk for UAE people being able to come here," he said.

"We don’t have labour to send to the UK, nor do we have terrorists or migrants that would come and reside here.

"All those who come arrive for business, leisure, medical reasons or education."

Nothing symbolises a close international friendship like the fleets of aircraft that fly around the clock to carry visitors between two nations, and Mr Al Mazroui has made the removal of entry visas for Emirati passport holders his tireless mission.

The ambassador, who has represented the country at the Court of St James since 2016, has often been frustrated by how long it’s taking the British to grab an obvious opportunity to strengthen ties.

What exactly the impediment is has never been clear.

“It beats me,” he said.

“We’ve managed to do it with 35 other countries in the world. The UAE passport is now ranking No 1 in the world in surveys, it is one of the most secure and the UAE does not export any negative elements or trouble. We have 440 flights a week between the two countries and that can increase substantially if the visa conditions are waived.”

With forthcoming changes in the UK’s e-gate system, the advanced properties of the Emirati passport make it a prime candidate for inclusion. Britain is also overhauling its immigration system, an opportunity to treat Emirati citizens better.

“We have had many discussions with the authorities here – with the Home office and the FCO [Foreign and Commonwealth Office] – and we are waiting for them to make progress on it,” he said.

“We’ve been promised there will be a review.

“Every time we meet, we have a task force [the UAE-UK task force] we also discuss it in the UAE-UK Business Council and every time we have official visits it is also addressed in meetings with their counterparts.”

While it is often said the business of modern embassies is largely business, Mr Al Mazroui is a prominent figure around British political circles, keeping up a dialogue with ministers and parliamentarians. At meetings, conferences, dinners and social events, Mr Al Mazroui ensures an agenda of co-operation has broad-based support.

“Part of the diplomatic work we do is to continually communicate with members of parliament – both houses – the diplomatic corps as well as with government,” he said. “We did a lot last year and we are doing more this year.”

Amid scenes of great drama in the parliament and to the exclusion of a lot of other government business, Britain is probably leaving the EU after 46 years at the end of next month.

Sulaiman Al Mazroui said people believe in the UK and will pick itself up again after Brexit. Stephen Lock for the National
Sulaiman Al Mazroui said people believe in the UK and will pick itself up again after Brexit. Stephen Lock for the National

Mr Al Mazroui provides a counterweight to some of the gloomiest commentary around the British decision, pointing out the institutions of the country are long-standing and have faced many trials. For the region, the familiar strengths of the British economy means people are focusing on the opportunities of what lies ahead.

“On the face of it there is not a slowdown in investment here. People are investing, buying property, coming more than ever as tourists to the UK,” he said. “It can be a positive thing for the UAE and the UK. There is a strong belief that the UK will stabilise even after the slight decline that we are witnessing now.

“People believe in the UK and that it will revive itself and it will pick up again.”

Looking ahead, the UAE can offer a platform for Britain as it redefines its international role. Next year’s International Exposition represents a major opportunity. Although its pavilion has been many years in the planning, the event is now seen through the post-Brexit prism.

“Expo 2020 is a major event. The UK is looking forward to showing its pavilion and looking forward to it. It will reassert the UK, I think, and – if there is a Brexit – it can showcase the British strengths, culture and ability to do outreach both in the region and for the world. This is a major thing.”

More immediately the UK is one of the major participants in the Special Olympics, which are being hosted by Abu Dhabi in March, a first for the Middle East.

“The Special Olympics is something that we are really looking forward to welcoming the UK and its teams that are facilitated in the best way possible,” said Mr Al Mazroui.

“We’ve been very supportive of all who are attending the event. This is a very good opportunity to showcase their endeavours and efforts in the UAE, especially in this Year of Tolerance, which aims to show inclusiveness to everybody.”

Inevitably, the big political interests shared by the two nations defines the work of any embassy. The need for pressure to help resolve regional divisions over extremism and cross-border disruption remains a key focus for the mission.

There is some shifting ground. Perspectives on the Yemen conflict have altered as Houthi obstruction of aid has been exposed through the Stockholm Agreement. Mr Al Mazroui anticipates all the European nations, including Britain, will show new readiness to get to grips with Tehran’s “disruptive policies” within their own borders.

Updated: February 1, 2019 05:14 PM

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