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The British Ambassador to Sweden blogs on The Local

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Sweden, Britain, and Climate Change

Tuesday, February 7th, 2017

Sweden and Britain are global leaders in climate change.  The UK has been a thought leader in policy, for example with the Stern Review in 2006.  The UK’s Climate Change Act in 2008 was the first of its kind.  Ten years later there are a little less than 1,000 climate laws around the world.

Sweden is one of the world’s strongest advocates for action on climate change.  It was the first country to provide strong evidence that decoupling GDP  growth from COemissions is possible.

On 2 February, the Swedish Government announced a new Swedish climate law.  this will strengthen its commitment on climate, and legally bind the country to decrease emissions by 85% by 2045.

The day after, we, the Embassy here, and the Swedish Government, hosted a joint climate change seminar in Stockholm.  The keynote speaker was Matthew Bell, the Chief Executive of the UK Committee on Climate Change.  The committee advises the UK Government on emissions targets, and reports to Parliament on how the UK is reducing climate emissions.  Sweden intends to set up a similar body called the Climate Policy Council.  Matthew was joined by Eva Svedling, Lars Tysklind, Nina Ekelund and Stefan Henningsson.  The seminar was a great chance to share best practice.

CCC seminar

It was also another reminder of how the UK and Sweden are close partners, and will continue to be so in the future.  However the UK develops our future relationship with the EU, we will continue to be active, including on climate change, with Sweden and other allies.

CCC slide 1         CCC slide 2


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Monday, January 9th, 2017

It’s a month since December’s Nobel Prize ceremony. So much is written about Nobel in the Swedish and world’s press that it is difficult to add any comment of value. But I’ll have a go.

International science. This year we had five British laureates,  Professors David Thouless, Duncan Haldane and Michael Kosterlitz in Physics, Professor Sir Fraser Stoddart in Chemistry and Professor Oliver Hart in Economics. As I said to them at a lunch we hosted: their journey was similar to my own father’s: Scottish and London heritage, science at Cambridge University, then a life of work in the US. They shared their prizes with a Frenchman, Dutchman and a Finn, and the whole story is one of international cooperation, so vital for our future prosperity.

Next generation science. This is our second year in Sweden, and the second time we have had British Nobel laureates, so I knew what I wanted to do:  take them to meet the children of the next generation. This we did, and Duncan Haldane visited the British International School of Stockholm.

Celebrating science. Nobel week is a fantastic celebration of science: on the TV, through talks at schools and universities around the country, and other Nobel events. The Nobel Week Dialogue conference, “Your Plate. Our Planet. The Future of Food”, with last year’s British Nobel Laureate for Economics, Professor Angus Deaton and Tristram Stuart, author of “Waste”, amongst others, was excellent (and yes, those are Tesco’s trimmed beans).  You might like this interview, which we hosted at the residence: Live interview with Physics Nobel Prize winners – I fucking love science |

Nobel1 Nobel2

Superb Sweden. The whole week is amazingly choreographed, and a thing of beauty. I know the families who came with the Nobel laureates were blown away by it all. I know we Brits think were pretty good at big events (Royal Weddings and the like), but Sweden is too, and I know how lucky we were to be part of it.

At the Nobel Banquet, and the Nordiska Museet as you don't often see it.

At the Nobel Banquet, and the Nordiska Museet as you don’t often see it.


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Hello darkness, my old friend

Monday, November 14th, 2016

I started thinking about November’s blog for The Local at the end of October, as the clocks were changing. The title came to me as, on the Monday after they changed, I sat looking out of the office window and it was dark at 4pm, and by 7pm I was ready for bed. Was I becoming a hibernating Swede, I wondered. Why did the transition to autumn and winter in our second year here seem to loom so much larger than first time round, especially when we hadn’t thought winter one was such a big deal?

This weekend, on the train to Goteborg for Remembrance weekend, the sun was bright and the snow white; a glorious winter day.

Perhaps the title seems a little political, in the light of developments in the world this year. And maybe that’s OK too.  Simon and Garfunkel’s song, of which the title above is the first line, is called “The Sound of Silence.” 2016 hasn’t been a year of silence; rather it’s been one of shouting and anger in much of the world. Simon and Garfunkel wrote the song as a description of people’s inability to communicate with each other, and then becoming unable to love each other. Much of the political analysis of this year has been on a similar theme.

This weekend we commemorated the fallen in many wars. The ceremony, formally on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, when the WWI armistice was signed, was first held in 1919, one year after the war ended. A million Brits died. It was an enormous number, but a fraction of the 17 million who died in total. Remembrance Day began with the Commonwealth, but today involves many more nations. In Sweden this November I joined a dinner for ex-servicemen in Stockholm, we then had a Poppy Day tea in Goteborg, which has been going since 1935, followed by a joint UK-German wreath laying ceremony at the cemetery in Kviberg, a joint event since the early 1960s. During 2016 we have also commemorated the 100th anniversary of the battle of Jutland, the biggest naval battle of WWI, and one that impacted on Sweden as bodies and wreckage washed up on Swedish shores.


Ambassador David Cairns, Military Attaché Mike Palmer and Honorary Consul Lars Wiklund honour the fallen in Gothenburg


For me, 2016 has also been a year when my children have taken big exams; my daughter’s GCSE, and my son’s Common Entrance. These included history, and back in June we sat on the balcony revising some of the big issues studied by British students: what were the causes of WWI? Why did Hitler come to power?

Looking forward, you can already see some of the questions that future generations of children (and historians) will be writing about when they study this year and this decade (and the FT has already started): Did the Arab Spring fail? Why did Russia annex Crimea? what happened to Francis Fukuyama’s “End of History”? And so on.

Looking back, many of the things we see happening today will be traced back to the economic crisis of 2008, the deepest since the great recession of the 1930s. Anyone who has read Michael Lewis’s excellent books (The Big Short, Flash Boys to name but two) will understand today’s anger at elites. So perhaps this year in particular, we should use the hibernating winter period to come up with a better way to communicate across societies, and countries, so that our children’s children are asked to write essays about the success of our generation, rather than failures.

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Cutting your nose ….

Tuesday, September 27th, 2016

Last week, Jeremy Browne, the Special Representative for the City of London, visited Sweden. Jeremy was a Foreign Office Minister in the coalition government, and then worked for Theresa May, our new Prime Minister, when she was Home Office Minister. It was interesting to hear his analysis on what happened in the UK’s referendum on the EU, and on what might be coming.

Jeremy Browne meeting Karolina Ekholm, State Secretary at the Swedish Finance Ministry, and team

Jeremy Browne meeting Karolina Ekholm, State Secretary at the Swedish Finance Ministry, and team

Swedish Radio’s coverage of his visit, recalled his point that the City of London has grown organically over decades (if not centuries – Lloyds of London was founded in 1668) to reach its current status as the world’s financial powerhouse. Around half of the world’s largest financial firms have their European headquarters in the UK. The UK also has more exports of financial services than any other country.

Looking ahead, he noted, it is not plausible, or probably even physically possible, that all of the jobs and services in London can move other parts of Europe. Frankfurt, for example, has only one tenth of the financial services jobs that London has, so a 1% move from London to Frankfurt would be a 10% growth for them, and that would be a lot to absorb. If the UK’s future relationship with the EU were not a mutually beneficial one, more likely, perhaps, and more risky for the whole of Europe would be that firms moved to the U.S. or Asia. That would be a loss for all of us in Europe.

So my take away message? I and several UK Ministers keep on repeating it, but, once again, I was reminded about how true it is – we will leave the EU, but we are still very much part of Europe. Our relationship in financial services, digital, climate, or even the food industry, will still be inextricably linked. It is up to all of us to shape the post-Brexit relationship between the UK and the EU to benefit us all.


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A Summer in Sweden

Tuesday, August 23rd, 2016

For our first year here in Sweden we decided to have all our holidays in Sweden. So winter in the mountains, and now, a summer sailing in Stockholm’s archipelago, and then cycling around Gotland.

(Almost) 10  impressions:

1.As promised, the archipelago is magical. And as advised, it is the smaller islands rather than the big sailing harbours that leave you with the strongest impressions.


2. As cities grow, how to maintain economic prosperity in rural communities is a challenge common for most developed countries. I took my son cycling round Suffolk in England last Easter, and was struck by the decline of the rural pub. Around some of Gotland it was the same. It’s not everywhere you check into a youth hostel, created out of a closed military base, to find it’s become a refugee centre. But ….

3. We saw great entrepreneurial spirit. The extraordinary Slow Train B+B and crêperie run by Franco-Swedish Valerie and Thomas in Fårö. The medieval restaurant and brewery in Fårö. The fish smokery in Lergrav.

4. Gotland’s beaches were as lovely as promised, with Vitviken near Åminne perhaps our favourite.


5. Cycling round Gotland you notice the churches and their spires in a way you don’t by car. My children go to school in Oundle, England, a part of the country that also became wealthy through wool, and I was reminded of similarly impressive churches in rural communities.

Gotland kyrka

6. Sweden’s food is really good, in a way I understand it wasn’t 20 years ago. Having cycled (again) with the family along Hadrian’s Wall as our last holiday in the UK before we moved here, the average quality in Sweden is much better than at home. Szechuan cooking at Surfers in Visby was an unexpected hit. But …

7. The season really is the season. Take the bakery in Rute for example: 1,000 visitors on Sunday. Monday (when we arrived) – closed, until next year.

8. Highlight of the summer? So many, but for the parents perhaps the early morning swims off the boat. And the old harbour in Kyllaj we came to by accident. For children the water slides in Kneippbyn.


9. Biggest disappointment of the summer? Apart from not making it to Gotska Sandön because the sea was too rough, Swedish TV coverage of the Olympics. We were reliant upon the ordinary non-fee channels that our hotels showed, and basically saw nothing. SVT – what are you doing? Much to learn from the BBC, I’m afraid.

The plan for next year? Perhaps a slightly wider exploration of the Nordic region.


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A summer of change; a summer of beauty

Tuesday, July 26th, 2016

You would have had to try hard to miss the political upheavals in the UK after the referendum decision to leave the EU on 23 June.  There was a period when political commentators were proved wrong on a daily basis. But one month on, my new Prime Minister, Theresa May, has a full new Ministerial team, who have hit the ground running.

For the Embassy team here in Sweden all this has shown the changes, and some of the constants, of diplomatic life. In the coming period we will have a big job to work with Sweden to create a new relationship between the UK and the EU. That will dominate for many, but at the same time much of our bilateral relationship will carry. Vattenfall have just announced that they will invest SEK3bn into the UK’s renewable energy market. Our two Defence Ministers met at the NATO summit in Warsaw in June, and our bilateral military cooperation with Sweden will continue. The Mary Rose museum in the UK, which celebrated 20 years of cooperation with the Vasa museum last year, reopens its doors this week. International cricket is coming to Stockholm in August. And if football is you’re thing, you’ll be interested in the new signing by Manchester United.  We have had an Ambassador here since 1535. Oliver Cromwell signed a treaty with Sweden in 1654. When our Queen, whose 90th birthday we have just celebrated, came to power, there was no EU, but there was friendship and family ties between our two royal families.

This has also been our first summer in Sweden, and how extraordinarily beautiful it has been. We leave at the end of this week for a week’s sailing round the Stockholm archipelago, then a week in Gotland. It is a holiday plan which seems to have met with approval from most of our Swedish friends. Wish us luck with the weather.  In the meantime, here is a souvenir photo after our now daily swim in Stockholm’s Djurgårdsviken.


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A message for British expats in Sweden

Tuesday, June 28th, 2016

The people of the United Kingdom have voted to leave the European Union. As Prime Minister David Cameron said on Friday 24 June, we would like to reassure Swedish citizens living in Britain, and British citizens living in Sweden, that there will be no immediate changes in their circumstances. Now, and during the negotiations to create a new relationship between the UK and the EU, there will be no change to people’s rights to travel and work, and to the way our goods and services are traded, or to the way our economy and financial system is regulated. These negotiations could take a long time.

As George Osborne, the British Chancellor, said on 27 June, Britain’s economy is going to have to adjust to the new situation. We were prepared for the unexpected, we are equipped for whatever happens, and we are determined that Britain’s financial system will help Britain deal with any shocks. We will ensure that Britain is able to agree a long-term economic relationship with the rest of Europe that provides for the best possible terms of trade in goods and services. We want to put in place the strongest possible economic links with Sweden and our European neighbours, with our close friends in North America and the Commonwealth, and our important partners like China and India.

Finally, as the Prime Minister also said, while Britain is not perfect, we believe that we can be a model of a multi-racial, multi-faith democracy, where people can come and make a contribution and rise to the very highest that their talent allows.

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Queen’s Birthday Stockholm 2016: 9th June. 90th Birthday. 900 Guests!

Friday, June 17th, 2016

What do you do when you read that the Queen’s 90th Birthday in London will be celebrated with a picnic for 10,000 people on The Mall? Get inspired.

This was us on 9th June, after just three months of preparation.

David & Sharon church JLR guests

With support from sponsors such as Lloyds, RBS, Jaguar Land Rover and Dyson, we laid on a 1920’s garden party for 900 from politics, business, media, and culture in the grounds of the Residence and English Church next door.

Multicultural and multi age. Children from the British School ran the games. The Servicemen and Women’s Association the tea tent. Cricket. Indian, highland sword and morris dancing. Music. A Swedish 1920s Fire engine. Fish and chips, sausages, cakes, and scones. Tea, Pims, G&T, beer and more tea. We planted a Queen Elizabeth Rose to mark the day. Scottish pipers piped the close.

.sword dancing rose planting dancers cricket treats fish and chips spitfire

Multicultural and multi age. Children from the British School ran the games. The Servicemen and Women’s Association the tea tent. Cricket. Indian, highland sword and morris dancing. Music. A Swedish 1920s Fire engine. Fish and chips, sausages, cakes, and scones. Tea, Pimms, G&T, beer and more tea. We planted a Queen Elizabeth Rose to mark the day. Scottish pipers piped the close.

Reflections? What a huge team effort, both in the Embassy and with the UK-Swedish organisations here, and a great bonding experience for all of us. We were definitely lucky with the weather. And what did our guests think? Here is what one said: “As one of my friends remarked to me during the party; it’s not difficult to work out what all the Swedish guests are thinking – on a day like this they wish they were English.”

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A day as a guard

Monday, April 18th, 2016

Life as an Ambassador. Driven around in the Jaguar. Visits all planned so you go straight in. Most of the people you meet invited or screened. A diplomatic bubble.

But what about those who work on the front line? What is their day to day life like? How are they treated, by visitors, and by other staff? I decided to find out by volunteering to join our guard team for a morning in April.

In the run up all was exciting. Would I get a gun, asked my son? No. But handcuffs and a walkie-talkie yes. Was the uniform cool? Yes, and a reminder to watch the waistline.

On the morning itself, I was nervous. Would I do something stupid? What if we had a security incident, and I was hopeless? My boss for the day, the head of security, sent me instructions, and there was a lot to learn. I almost overslept the 0700 start. That would have been bad.

In the end, fortunately, all went well. It was also quite an eye opener. Our guards have to be bi-lingual, and answer any call that comes, as they also operate the telephone reception. The post room had pictures of some of the nasty things that people send to Embassies, and that was sobering as I went through the day’s mail. You get to know all the Embassy regulars, from the garbage guys to the regular police checks, and these relationships are important. Something can happen at any time, and that means you, and your stuff, has to be ready. Our guards are young, but much more mature than I was at that age. For our own colleagues most say hello; others are lost in their own world and don’t (and I realised I’ve been guilty of that).

HMA with Rickard and Stefanos

Thanks to Rickard and Stefanos (pictured here), and Tobias for looking after me.  It was fun, with a great team, who are an excellent front line for us here in Stockholm.

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Voting in Britain

Monday, March 21st, 2016

There are about 3.5–5.5 million UK citizens living overseas, and about 30,000 in Sweden. In the future, British people are likely to get a “vote for life” although that is not possible today. But if you have been registered to vote in the UK in the last 15 years you can vote.

You can register online to vote – it takes less than five minutes and once that’s done you can choose to vote via one of three methods. You can vote either by post; by proxy (you designate someone you trust to vote on your behalf in the UK); or in person at a polling station in your constituency. If you can’t or don’t want to register online, you can still download and post back paper forms.

To register to vote you will need to know your National Insurance number and your passport details. If you don’t have a National Insurance number you can still register, but you may have to supply more information to show who you are. If you were too young when you left the UK to have been registered, then you can register as an overseas voter if your parents (or guardians) were registered in the UK in the last 15 years.

Do spread the word. #ovrd, #yourvotematters, and #expat.

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