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The Diplomatic Dispatch

The British Ambassador to Sweden blogs on The Local

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War and Remembrance

Tuesday, July 1st, 2014

28 June marked the centenary of the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand – the event that set in train the outbreak of the First World War.

Of course the causes of the war were much more complicated than one violent act. Last week we hosted an event at the Residence where British historian Andrew Oldfield gave us a fascinating insight into the political, economic and cultural conditions which led to war.

The consequences are still with us, as I noted in my talk; if post-war Europe was a “landscape with ruins”, as one historian noted, the Middle East today remains a landscape with fault lines, some of them dating from the aftermaths of the First and Second World Wars.

So remembering our history and understanding its lessons, I argued, is crucial to effective diplomacy. That’s why the British government has invested in a range of events to mark the centenary of the Great War.

WWI Podcasts

On 28 June the Foreign Secretary launched a series of WWI Podcasts based on original Foreign Office dispatches from the 28 June assassination to Britain entering the War on 4 August (the so called “July Crisis?”). In the interviews, the Foreign Secretary and former British Ambassadors to Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Russia and Serbia help set the context for what was unfolding in Europe and describe what it must have been like for their predecessors during that period. ?The podcasts are available at https://audioboo.fm/playlists/1256851-fco-first-world-war-podcasts.

WWI Tweets

In another digital project to mark the July Crisis, FCO Historians will tweet, in real time, extracts from Foreign Office telegrams, dispatches and letters leading up to the outbreak of WWI. Eleven twitter accounts have been set up reflecting the key British diplomatic figures from 1914. They will tweet from their respective accounts and be re-tweeted from a central FCO account: @WWIFO. You can sign-up and follow the tweets as they come in real-time 100 years to the day. A blog has also been posted on the History of Government website on Gov.UK to provide the context and background.

UN Security Council

Finally, commemoration of WWI will be a major theme of the UK’s Presidency of the Security Council in August. The UK will co-lead with Australia a Security Council visit to Belgium on 9-10 August. The Council will hold a session on conflict prevention with academics, visit a multinational war cemetery and attend the Last Post ceremony at the Menin Gates. During our Presidency we shall also host an exhibition of WWI poetry in the UN Secretariat building which will feature poems from different countries.

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Europe: After the Vote

Monday, June 30th, 2014

Much ink has already been spilled (or many keys have already been tapped) in analysing the European Council’s decision to nominate Jean-Claude Juncker to head the European Commission.

My government has been clear that the decision was wrong in principle, as a matter as process and as an issue of policy.

For that reason the UK stood up for the principle that the European Council – the elected national leaders – should be the ones to propose the Commission President, not be dictated to by political groups in the European Parliament.

This was a position shared by all three main political parties in Britain. In the UK, as in most other EU countries, the so-called Spitzencandidates had been invisible in the elections. The notion that they automatically represented the conscious choice of a European demos is nonsense.

So it was important and welcome that the European Council agreed to review what has happened and to consider how we handle the appointment of the next Commission President. We need to ensure we get a choice of high-quality candidates in the future.

This whole process has reinforced my Prime Minister’s conviction, as he said in Brussels, that the EU needs to change to address the concerns of citizens across Europe and thus close the gap between people in Europe and the EU institutions.

For us, it’s clear that the status quo – “Brussels as usual” – is not right for the EU of today, let alone that of tomorrow. We won’t be able to sustain a diverse, flexible and competitive continent unless we look the challenges and opportunities of modernity and globalisation in the face.

The Prime Minister was clear that Britain’s national interest still lies in our membership of a reformed EU and that he is determined to achieve that through discussion and renegotiation.

He, with others, secured progress in a number of important respects at the Council:

For the first time all Member States have agreed that the EU will need to address Britain’s concerns about the EU in the next few years. We know these are shared by others.

Leaders have also agreed that “ever closer union” allows for different paths of integration for different countries and to respect the wish of those who do not want deeper integration.

We have also embedded Britain’s push for reform, which is shared by other Partners, in the Council’s mandate for the Commission for the next five years:

-prioritising work to building stronger economies and creating jobs.

-making clear the EU should only act where it makes a real difference – leaving it to nation-states where it doesn’t.

- giving national parliaments a stronger role.

- tackling issues that worry voters such as the abuse of free movement in certain countries.

Of course, this is only a start and more change is needed. The PM accepts that what happened in Brussels on Friday will make reform tougher and the stakes higher. But he’s clear that reforming the EU and the UK’s role within is necessary and also achievable.

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Scotland: the best of all lands and the best of all worlds

Monday, June 23rd, 2014

On 18 September, voters in Scotland will be asked “Should Scotland be an independent country?”.

The UK and Scottish Governments agree that the question is for people in Scotland to decide. The UK Government strongly believes that Scotland’s future is better staying within the United Kingdom, but it has of course pledged to respect the outcome.

As part of its commitment to a fair and decisive referendum in Scotland, the UK Government has commissioned a number of papers to evaluate the benefits of Scotland remaining in the UK, both to Scotland and the rest of the UK. Late last week, it published the fifteenth and final paper.

United Kingdom, united future: Conclusions of the Scotland analysis programme summarises the previous papers in the series and sets out the programme’s key findings on issues such as currency, businesses and jobs, the affordability of public services, personal finances, and Scotland’s place in Europe and in the world.

The paper shows that Scotland is better off as part of the UK, now and in the future.

With a strong Scottish Parliament, Scotland can make its own decisions in devolved areas, while sharing risks and resources with the other parts of the UK. The best of all worlds for the best of all lands!

More than 200 UK public institutions serve people in Scotland, underpinned by shared principles and values. If Scotland votes for independence, this will come to an end.

As part of the UK, Scotland has one of the oldest and most stable currencies in the world. It would not be possible to recreate today’s arrangements if the UK as it stands did not exist. That is why all three main political parties in the UK Parliament have ruled out sharing the Pound or the Bank of England in a formal currency union.

A great weight of evidence says that Scotland’s finances are stronger as part of the UK. Independent experts agree that the UK offers people in Scotland lower taxes and higher public spending than would be possible in an independent Scotland – an estimated £1,400 per person per year for each person in Scotland.

There would also be global implications for an independent Scotland. Currently, the people of Scotland benefit from the UK’s reach and strength on the world stage. The UK has a unique and historic role in world affairs which it uses to enhance its security and prosperity. Scotland also benefits from and contributes to the UK’s relationships with other countries, and the UK’s high profile in multilateral organisations, including NATO, the UN Security Council and the EU.

Previous Scotland Analysis papers can be found here.

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A Wake-Up Call for Europe

Monday, June 9th, 2014

Tonight David Cameron pays his second visit to Sweden in just over two years. In 2012 it was to meet his Nordic and Baltic counterparts. Tonight and tomorrow Prime Minister Reinfeldt is again his host, this time at Harpsund. And this time, the German Chancellor and Dutch Prime Minister will be the other participants. At a crucial moment in the European debate they’ll be charting a reform course for the EU. Here’s the article I published in the leading Swedish business newspaper Dagens Industri today, setting out our view of the reform challenges ahead.


Today David Cameron comes to Sweden to discuss the future of Europe.

Two weeks ago citizens voted across Europe to elect a new European Parliament.

Earthquakes, tremors, seismic waves: the media air was full of metaphors as pundits reflected on the emerging results.

The analogy that sprung to my mind was less a natural disaster than a wake-up call.

Some will say the results in the UK suggest that it’s already too late: that Britain has overslept and is sleepwalking out of the EU.

The UK government disagrees. These results show that people across Europe are disillusioned with the EU. Not a surprise, given the longest recession in living memory. But this is about more than economics: it’s about politics too. A return to growth, crucial though that is, will not solve all the EU’s problems. What we need is a serious rethink of where the EU goes next and how.

That was the message my Prime Minister took to the European Council dinner on 27 May. It was a message echoed around the table.

This is not a moment for the EU to panic. But emphatically it is not a time to return to business as usual.

What we need is new thinking, some new faces and a new agenda for the next Commission and the next 5 years, set by the European Council. Many leaders are committed to reforming the European Union.

That’s why David Cameron, along with Germany’s Angela Merkel and Mark Rutte of the Netherlands , has accepted the invitation of Fredrik Reinfeldt, to meet at Harpsund on 9-10 June, to look at the real reform challenges facing the EU up to 2020 and beyond.

For the UK, these concern above all competitiveness, fairness and flexibility.

Competitiveness, because the election results speak to a deep concern that Europe has lost sight of its key mission, to secure prosperity for its citizens. The next Commission, the member states, national parliaments and the European Parliament need a ruthless focus on creating jobs and growth. More free trade, less, and smarter, regulation, fewer barriers to commerce and innovation: these must be the watchwords if we are to respond effectively to the challenges of globalisation and demographic change.

Fairness, because the evolution of the Union needs to work for all member states, large and small, inside and outside the eurozone. We need eurozone governments to take the right decisions to stabilise and strengthen governance of the single currency. But access to the single market, and non-discriminatory treatment of all member states, not least those with big financial sectors like Sweden and Britain, means a fairer EU is integral to a more competitive EU.

And with competitiveness and fairness must come greater flexibility. If Sunday’s results demonstrate anything it’s that the EU’s institutions have become dangerously remote from those who pay for them and elect them. Centralisation and harmonisation in the pursuit of an abstract ideal need to be replaced with a more modern vision: where, as the Dutch government has said, it’s Europe where necessary, national where possible.

As long ago as 2001 Europe’s Heads agreed that powers could flow down as well as up, away from the centre as well as toward Brussels. It’s long past time to act on that.

The elections were thus a wake-up call for Europe. Some Europeans, although not many Swedes, have had a tendency to decry the UK debate on Europe, “noisy neighbours” endlessly questioning the status quo, the acquis, the Project.

But increasingly our debate is a Europe-wide debate, not about dismantling the European Union, but about adapting it for the future.

And it’s essentially a cross-party issue in Britain. Of course the Westminster parties differ on the details. The Conservatives would have an in-out referendum, following negotiation of a new settlement for the UK in Europe, by the end of 2017. Labour and the Liberals would have such a referendum only in the event of a Treaty change transferring powers from Britain to Brussels.

But all agree on the need to reform Europe.

As David Cameron concluded his Bloomberg speech in January 2013: “I believe something very deeply. That Britain’s national interest is best served in a flexible, adaptable and open European Union and that such a European Union is best with Britain in it… I will not rest until this debate is won. For the future of my country. For the success of the European Union. And for the prosperity of our peoples for generations to come. “

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Sweden: it’s #timetoact against sexual violence in conflict

Thursday, June 5th, 2014

Next Tuesday marks the beginning of the Foreign Secretary’s Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict. I know the Swedish government shares the UK’s commitment to tackling this issue globally and we are already working closely with them. Swedish Minister for International Development Cooperation, Hillevi Engström will represent Sweden at the conference.

As part of the global relay of events supporting the Summit, Stockholm will host a panel discussion with the Swedish Red Cross, Swedish NGO Kvinna till Kvinna (Woman to Woman) and several international social entrepreneurs.

Addressing a broad public audience, the discussion will consider the contributions non-government organisations, business and individuals can make towards tackling issues such as sexual violence in conflict. The event will be filmed and shared both through the Summit and wider social media.

Earlier this week, I participated in a #diplocafe with the Secretary General of Kvinna till Kvinna, Lena Ag. We discussed the Global Summit and the impact of nationalism on women’s security and human rights. We also took the opportunity to show our support for the #TimeToAct campaign.

Next week, embassy colleagues will attend a Nordic Forum on women’s rights in Malmö (Southern Sweden) which is taking place at the same time as the Summit in London. They will participate in discussions, capture the activity on film, and share insights on social media.

What is the summit all about, you may ask?

The use of sexual violence in war is one of the great injustices of our lifetime. It is hard to document, let alone investigate. Perpetrators do not discriminate, because it’s not about sex, but violence, terror, power and control. When rape is committed during conflict, it has often been seen as an inevitable part of war, and so it has been allowed to go unpunished.

But even war has rules. So just as the world could agree that land mines have no place on the battlefield, the world must agree to end sexual violence in conflict.

In London between 10-13 June, the UK Foreign Secretary, William Hague, and UN Special Envoy, Angelina Jolie, will co-host the Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict. Representatives of governments, civil society, the military and the judiciary will all take part. So too will the public. Events will also take place around the world, including in Sweden. Representatives of Sweden will be asked to commit to concrete action that will help remove wartime rape and sexual violence from the world’s arsenal of cruelty. You can help to ensure they do so.

It will be a Summit like no other, because sexual violence is a crime like no other. Women and men are made to suffer its horrors in conflicts around the world, and shocking as it may seem, many victims are very young girls and boys. Sexual violence carries a corrosive after-effect that lasts a lifetime: an unjust and destructive shame for the victims and their families.

But we firmly believe that this can – and must – change.

The appalling truth is that only a tiny number of perpetrators of these crimes have ever been brought to trial, let alone convicted. That is why at the Summit we will launch the first International Protocol on the Documentation and Investigation of Sexual Violence in Conflict. The Protocol will help investigators preserve information and evidence in the aftermath of an attack, improve the chances of someone being successfully prosecuted later, and protect victims and survivors from further trauma.

At the Summit next week, we want governments to announce their support for the Protocol and to encourage local activists, lawyers, police personnel, and doctors to use it. We also want governments to make sure that their national laws on rape and sexual violence are in line with international standards, so that there’s a greater chance of securing successful prosecutions for war crimes in their own courts. The Summit will also look at the role that the military can play. When sexual violence occurs in conflict zones, soldiers are often the first people on the scene, but are not always properly equipped or trained to deal with this sensitive problem. This needs to change. And Armies are often responsible for carrying out these abhorrent acts. This must stop. Finally, we hope the governments of the world’s wealthiest nations will announce new funding support, including to local grass-roots organisations which often work at the heart of the most affected communities.

But government action alone is not enough. We need every family and community to change the culture that stigmatises survivors and to be united in their abhorrence for these crimes, so that any man with a gun will think twice before ordering or committing rape. Will you add your voice to the global call for decisive action?

Join the conversation on twitter @end_svc using #TimeToAct and watch and share the animation on Youtube, ‘Don’t believe the thumbnail, this is the stuff of nightmares’, which depicts the horrors of rape and sexual violence through the eyes of a child.

It is time to support survivors, shatter the culture of impunity and ensure that justice is done, both now and in the future. It is #TimeToAct.

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Scotland in the UK: Better Together

Monday, June 2nd, 2014

The referendum on Scottish independence draws ever nearer and the debate is intensifying on both sides.  As part of that debate, the UK government has published its 14th paper in a series of analyses, which set out the case for Scotland’s continued Union with the rest of the UK.

The focus of this latest paper is fiscal policy and sustainability.  It states that Scots would be around SEK 14,000 better off per person, per year, over the 20 years from 2016-17 if Scotland remained in the UK.  This “UK Dividend” is possible thanks to pooling financial resources and managing financial risks at an aggregate UK level.  If Scotland were independent, it is estimated that spending would need to go down 11%, or taxes would need to go up 13%, to avoid losing this benefit.

Other independent bodies, such as the Institute for Fiscal Studies and the National Institute for Economic and Social Research, have also analysed the fiscal prospects for an independent Scotland.  They all point towards greater fiscal challenges e.g. a continued decline in oil and gas revenues, and a more rapidly ageing population  than the rest of the UK, reducing tax revenues and growth whilst putting more pressure on age-related spending.

It is not just the UK government setting out the case for Better Together.  Separately, researchers at the University of Glasgow have challenged the facts behind the argument that Scotland can be successful as a small, independent country as it is one of the richest nations in the world.   In pure GDP terms, the wealth claim might be true (USD 39,600 per capita). However, the academics suggest that GNI (USD 37,400 per capita) is a better measure of wealth, as this identifies wealth that stays in the country.  And given the high levels of foreign (including Swedish) ownership, if foreign companies’ dividends and profits are discounted, the figure goes down to USD 34,600 per capita, rendering Scotland a middle-ranking economy.

The business community themselves are also getting directly involved in the debate, with everyone from the CBI (Svenskt Näringsliv equivalent) through to individual companies saying they think Scotland would be better off staying in the UK.  They are concerned that companies will pull out of an independent Scotland, although of course, they may not.  But it is a risk, and it could be an expensive one.

A lot of this might sound rather dull, simply quoting numbers and acronyms, and there are plenty more if you click on the link above.   Some might also say this sounds like a negative argument, that “London” and others from the outside are saying Scotland can’t go it alone. But that is categorically NOT the message.  The message is that we are Better Together.  The facts and figures stack up much more in Scotland’s favour as part of the UK.  Scotland and all the constituent parts of the UK make a stronger whole, building on each other’s respective strengths and capabilities, pooling resources, and constituting a coherent, outward-facing entity in an increasingly globalised world.

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Two Elections, One Day, One Europe

Friday, May 9th, 2014

Britain and Sweden see eye to eye on the implications of the Ukraine crisis. Here’s a translation of the article I wrote for Dagens Industri today.

In less than three weeks’ time, the people of Ukraine go to the polls in Presidential elections that will determine the future direction of their country. According to reputable polling organisations, over 80 percent of Ukrainians said they will vote on 25 May.

On the same day hundreds of millions of us will vote to elect our representatives for the European Parliament.

It’s symbolic that both sets of elections take place on the same day. It reminds us of the values the EU is built on and the values we must stand up for and protect in Ukraine.

Preparations for the elections in Ukraine have been going ahead despite attempts to destabilise, disrupt and intimidate the process and the people. They have been going ahead despite attempts to undermine the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine more widely.  The UK is clear that such attempts must stop to open the way for a political solution, which is the only way to resolve the crisis.

The UK and Sweden, with our other EU partners, are committed to offering whatever support we can to help Ukraine move ahead to a more prosperous, accountable and democratic future.

But the choice of who should lead Ukraine to that future and what direction that future should be is for people in Ukraine to make, without fear of instability and intimidation.

International support for a stable, democratic Ukraine is clear: it comes from European nations, the United States; the G7 and NATO allies.

We do not underestimate the challenges Ukraine faces or the help it needs.

In April, the IMF agreed a loan that will help Ukraine to tackle its immediate financial needs and launch much-needed reforms. The UK has sent police experts to help work with the authorities in Ukraine on tracking the vast funds looted by former President Yanukovych and his cronies. We want to see these assets returned to their rightful owners, the people of Ukraine. This will take time and hard work, but last month in London we gave further momentum to this process with the Ukraine Forum on Asset Recovery.

The next three weeks will be challenging.  Violent confrontations have continued in Sloviansk, Odessa and other parts of the country.  Dozens of people have been abducted and detained illegally, and political activists have disappeared.  Journalists have been held hostage or intimated.

The British government commends the Ukrainian authorities for the restraint they have shown in the face of severe provocation.  We recognise the undeniable challenges of responding resolutely to armed and violent lawlessness whilst avoiding risk to innocent civilians.  It’s a hard balance to strike, but vital to make every effort to do so.

The international community has a crucial role to play in supporting normalisation in Ukraine. Following last month’s EU/US/Russia/Ukraine agreement in Geneva, the Government of Ukraine has taken significant steps to bring about stability and reconciliation.  They have made commitments to protect minority rights, offered an amnesty for those involved in actions in eastern Ukraine, special status for the Russian language and launched a debate on constitutional reform and decentralisation.

The world is looking to Russia to live up to its Geneva commitments.

Russia must pull back its troops. It must ensure that its proxies in eastern Ukraine release hostages, lay down their arms, cease provocations, leave the buildings they have occupied, and allow the legitimate, democratic processes to take their course. And it must step back from its illegal annexation of Crimea. It should stop disinformation and propaganda and accept that the vast majority of the people want to stay in an independent Ukraine.

The UK does not want to see Russia isolated. I know from my time working on the UN Security Council that Russia can make a constructive difference to solving some of the world’s most difficult problems.  But when fundamental UN and European values are being undermined we cannot continue with business as usual. We cannot stand by and ignore the attempts to dismember the sovereign territory of Ukraine with the annexation of Crimea or to foment instability and discord in eastern Ukraine.

The UK is committed to this agenda, which is not confrontational but rooted in shared values and shared interests. It’s about supporting Ukraine as a country with a right to choose its own future, which can become a modern, democratic nation, one which embraces European values, embraces transparency and condemns corruption.

Ukraine’s elections are a chance for a new start for Ukraine. The UK and Sweden and the international community should stands with Ukraine as people there decide their future.

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Remembrance and Reconciliation

Monday, April 28th, 2014
Only the sound of birdsong broke the silence as we stood with our heads bowed.
A gentle wind rustled the blossom in the trees on the hillside as a hundred people gathered to remember the sacrifice of the young men of Australia, New Zealand and Canada who fought and died for the freedom of Europe in the First and Second World Wars.
ANZAC day was chosen to mark the anniversary of the landings of Australian and New Zealand soldiers at Gallipoli in Turkey on 25 April 1915.
Last Friday, 99 years later, with my friends and colleagues from the Embassies of Australia and Canada, and the Honorary Consul of New Zealand, I attended the ANZAC day service at the beautiful hillside cemetery of Kviberg in Gothenburg.
We marked the deaths of the Australian, New Zealand and Canadian soldiers in two World Wars and in many other conflicts.
My thoughts were also with those of my fellow countrymen, not least soldiers of the King’s Own Scottish Borders, the regiment with which my brother served in Iraq and in Northern Ireland, also buried at Kviberg.
As we begin to mark the hundredth anniversary of the Great War, as NATO’s troops begin the long withdrawal from the long conflict in Afghanistan and as the situation in Eastern Ukraine remains tense and troubling, it was a good time to remember the importance of the sacrifice made by young servicemen and women around the world.
Also, listening to the eloquent and moving speeches by my friend and colleague, the Australian Ambassador, Gerald Thompson, and by the Counsellor from the Turkish Embassy, it was a moment to reflect on the importance of post-conflict reconciliation.
My Turkish colleague quoted movingly from a speech by Ataturk, who had led the resistance at Gallipoli and who later became of course the father of the Turkish nation.
He spoke of how soldiers on both sides had been fighting for their country and how now they lay together in a new country’s soil.
In many conflicts around the world and in many post-conflict and indeed pre-conflict situations, that spirit of statesmanship, of reconciliation and understanding, is more important now than ever.

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England’s History, Scotland’s Future

Thursday, April 24th, 2014
Yesterday at the Residence we marked St George’s Day, the feast day of England’s patron saint, and the week of the 450th anniversary of the birth of England’s and the world’s greatest dramatist and poet,William Shakespeare.
A British architect, Rueben Thorpe, talked to us about the excavation of the Rose Theatre in London, one of the theatres of the Elizabethan age, whose boards Shakespeare himself may have trodden.
And the splendid actors of Stockholm’s English Speaking Theatre company performed extracts from “Much Ado about Nothing” (which they will be performing in Stockholm this summer) and from other Shakespeare comedies, dramas and sonnets.
Yesterday evening, having marked a famous birth in English history, I talked to the British and Commonwealth Association about the future of Scotland and the United Kingdom, specifically the referendum on Scottish independence being held this September.
I set out the British government’s case for why Scotland remaining part of the United Kingdom is the right answer and fielded a lot of excellent questions on history, defence, culture, values, economics and my own future if Scotland votes to go its own way!  Thanks to everyone who took part in, and attended, both events.

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Decoding the English Language: Sense and Sensibility

Monday, March 31st, 2014
When I was learning Swedish in London I studied in a language training centre, where post pupils were European business men and women seeking to improve their English. While I tried to do my Swedish homework, my thoughts often strayed to what I could overhear of the classes in the neighbouring rooms. Hearing the teachers explain that what British people say, eg in business meetings, was often rather different to what they meant or meant you to understand, was a valuable lesson.
I was reminded of this when a friend sent me the following table. Enjoy!

Translator of British

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Blog updates

08 July

Lie of the land (Blogweiser) »

"Way up here in Northern Europe, beautiful places to swim are everywhere. When the sun is out, the water is a perfect blue, inviting you to jump in. The other day, a friend of mine did. He hopped in, got out, dried off, and then told me one of the most common lies you’ll hear..." READ »


07 July

Gånger, timmar, tid och dags (The Swedish Teacher) »

"Hej igen! I hope everyone is having a great summer so far. Many of my students make mistakes when they use the Swedish words gång, timme, tid and dags. en gång, många gånger Let me beging with gång and gånger. You should use gånger when you are talking about something that you can count. We talk about..." READ »

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