Joao Vale de Almeida, the first EU Ambassador to the UK, greeted his colleagues from the 27 member states for the first time on Monday 3 February 2020, our very first working day. Since that date, this has become a regular forum to exchange ideas – in person, when circumstances permitted, or in virtual format, when it was safer to do so. A joint article in the Guardian to mark Europe Day illustrated this joint effort.
Our own team was still trying to figure out who sits where when we had to pack our laptops and set up ourselves to work from home where our children were showing us how to handle virtual classrooms (or change the background image). For the Delegation, COVID restrictions had the extra twist of short notice changes to EU-UK negotiating rounds. Little had we known before of how many people fit in one coach, respecting social distancing rules. Or, how video-conferencing apps fit (or – not really) with TV cameras, so that speakers, journalists and interpreters all hear what is said during a fully virtual press conference. During 2020, we reached out to UK Authorities, building a vast network of contacts across Whitehall and Westminster. We travelled across the country (when Covid allowed) to engage with the devolved nations, with missions to Northern Ireland, Wales (in person) and Scotland (virtually). We engaged with academia and think tanks and, also through the media (with around 25 direct interviews and over 100 articles we have contributed to), spoke about the EU’s priorities and policies, underscoring the numerous areas of convergence with the UK and that what unites us is far more than what divides us.
Together with the embassies of the EU27 member states in London, one of our key priorities through 2020 remained support for EU citizens in the UK. With the help of support organisations, we offered 150 information sessions, many of which were livestreamed. We will continue with them in 2021, but we are also launching EU advice surgeries to assist the most vulnerable and those with the most complex cases. To find what support is available near you, check our database, our leaflets or follow us on social media.
Of course, for our team the key date of 2020 was 24 December 2020 when the EU and the UK negotiating teams agreed a Trade and Cooperation Agreement and we avoided no deal. This agreement covers trade, but also fish, transport, energy, security and many other subjects. It has a comprehensive governance structure, with level playing field elements and respect for the fundamental rights of our citizens, underpinning it all.
In 2021, our team at the EU Delegation to the UK looks forward to supporting a new partnership between the EU and the UK on the basis of this agreement.
Ambassador Vale de Almeida says:
“We are now at a turning point, the beginning of a new cycle – a new beginning with old friends. Brexit is concluded. We successfully avoided a no deal – and I want to stress the importance of this. The point now is to move on, to turn the page and to build what could be a virtuous cycle of relationship between our 27 member states of the European Union and the United Kingdom. There is life beyond Brexit. It is for us to build this life, to make it happen so that it works for our citizens and for our businesses, but to build it also, so that it fulfils our role in the global community, as countries that share fundamental values of democracy, the rule of law and human rights.”