The newly-appointed British Ambassador to Portugal Chris Sainty presented his credentials to the Portuguese President little more than a fortnight ago, but has already been extremely active in making contacts both with Portuguese government officials and members of the British community.
One of his major aims has been to address and even allay many of the concerns faced by either side of the world’s oldest alliance, with Brexit little more than five months away, while also calling on British expats here in Portugal to prepare for what is likely to follow post 29 March 2019.
Having last week met with several prominent members of the community in the Algarve, Ambassador Sainty has pledged to continue engaging with expats in Portugal, with regular updates of these events posted on the British Embassy’s official Facebook and Twitter pages and in the press.
Speaking to The Portugal News at the Vice-Consulate in Portimão, Mr. Sainty reveals that while this is in fact his first appointment as an ambassador, he has “30 years of experience in the diplomatic service, which makes me a career diplomat”.
He explains that he has spent the greater part working on Europe and on policy-making on Europe, experience he intends to apply during his term as Ambassador in Portugal.
As for his appointment, he says: “I was absolutely delighted to be appointed British Ambassador to Portugal, our oldest allies and one of our very best friends”.
As for the country, he adds: “It’s a very beautiful country. I’m pleased to be here, but beside the food and the wine I think it’s about the historic relationship we have with the country, which is an excellent basis for going forward and makes my job very exciting”.
Mr Sainty also reveals that he believes a special Anglo-Portuguese relationship will be brokered post-Brexit.
“I have two main goals here in Portugal: The first is for us to get through Brexit successfully, which is a short-term objective as we’re leaving next March.
“The more exciting part is designing the new bilateral relationship between the two countries for the future. We have a shared history, our Atlantic geography, our interests are common across the world. We have a strong commercial relationship and in many other areas we cooperate very closely”.
In terms of protecting the rights of communities both in Portugal and the UK, the Ambassador says: “We have a very large community of Portuguese living in Britain, which I put at around 400,000 and a very substantial British community living here in Portugal. One of my main priorities here in Portugal is to protect the rights of the British community as we go through the Brexit process”.
As for the negotiations between the EU and the UK, Mr Sainty explains: “We are in an uncertain moment about the outcome.
The two scenarios we are looking at are that we do a deal with the EU, and under those circumstances we have everything in place to protect and guarantee the rights of communities.
“In the event of no deal, things are a little more uncertain, but it’s important to remember that three weeks ago after the Salzburg Summit, Prime Minister Theresa May made a very strong commitment to the EU citizens living in the UK, saying whatever the outcome of the Brexit negotiations, they will continue to be welcome in the UK”.
As for contacts made in Lisbon, he says he would find it very difficult to believe that the Portuguese government would not reciprocate with a similar offer to the British community here.
“I’m not going to make promises, but I think people should feel reasonably reassured”.
As for possible resentment being felt over the UK leaving the EU, he says he does not detect this sort of sentiment, instead there is an understanding that both sides are aware their economies will stand to lose in the event of a no deal.
As proof of this, in 2017, the total bilateral trade between the two countries reached 12 billion euros, which is up 50 percent on five years earlier.
“So even after Brexit, trade is growing between the two countries”, adds Mr Sainty.
“Portugal exports twice as much as the UK exports, so logically Portugal stands to lose a lot if that trade is impeded in the future,” he elaborates.
As for his meetings with the community, he explains: “I’ve had a series of contacts, and members I have met are very diverse.
“One of the key issues I have raised during my contacts is for British citizens to register with their local authorities.
“While it’s not a complicated process, we know there are many people who have not yet registered with Portuguese authorities and obtain their residence cards. In the end, we would encourage people to register as there will come a time in this process where they will need to in order to retain their rights in Portugal”.
Details of how to register in Portugal can be found by visiting https://www.gov.uk/world/portugal