- You are here:
- › Nigel Sheinwald
Nigel SheinwaldAmbassador, Washington
Yesterday, I had the pleasure of meeting a group of British school students visiting Washington this week. This is no ordinary visit. Today, the group will be meeting the First Lady, Michelle Obama, at the White House.
The students – all from the Islington area of north London – each submitted winning essays in a contest managed by Islington schools during English Black History Month (October). The essay title was “Hidden History;” and the essays focused on the history of 20th century immigrants to inner-city London. They are drawn from ten different schools and a variety of ethnic backgrounds.
During their White House visit, the students will be presenting excerpts from their winning essays. They gave me a short preview of their presentation and, without giving anything away, I know they will represent the UK magnificently. They were all exceptionally talented people, committed to succeeding in life, with interesting and sometimes difficult family histories to reflect on.
By the end of their busy schedule, the group will also have spent time at Howard University, the Bell Multicultural School, the Nineteenth Street Baptist Church, and the wonderful array of museums that Washington has to offer.
This is a chance for young people from the UK to share their experiences from back home, as well as take the pulse of life here in Washington, establishing special ties and relationships between educational institutions in our two countries. They were all excited by being here and by the prospect of meeting the First Lady. They were great Ambassadors for today’s Britain.
The Embassy opens its doors this Saturday as part of EU Open House day - where the embassies of EU members in Washington, DC welcome the public.
These open houses are about more than seeing embassies. Although we are quite proud of our Embassy, this open house is mostly an opportunity to showcase the UK to the American public.
In keeping with one of the top priorities of the UK government, there will be a green theme to our open house. Visitors will have a chance to tour the Residence Gardens, learn how to green their homes and check out the new electric Mini Cooper. We'll also exchange plastic grocery bags with reusable, environmentally friendly bags.
I hope visitors will leave knowing that the UK is a leader on green action.
But equally I hope that they will enjoy a day of British culture and food. The Washington British School will provide entertainment and there will also be traditional British food and whisky available.
In true British fashion, we'll be doing all this rain or shine.
This week sees the launch of the new all electric Mini. I have particular reason to be happy about this, as I was fortunate to drive one on Monday, at an event held jointly with the German Ambassador. I can confirm that it is possible to get a 6’ 3” Ambassador comfortably into the driving seat of this small but perfectly formed British-German car! The body is built in Cowley, Oxford, with the electric motor and battery shipped from BMW in Germany.
With my first hand experience, I think there are three reasons to celebrate this new twist on a modern icon. With apologies to Jeremy Clarkson…
First, the Mini stands for brilliant British design. It also symbolises youth, confidence, excitement and mobility – in the widest sense of the word. That was true when I was growing up in the sixties in London and remains true today. For those wondering about performance I can reassure you that the new Mini is quick off the mark and great fun too – fully charged it has a range of 120 miles and a top speed of 95mph. The aim of the Mini E’s launch by BMW is to gauge whether there is a sufficient US market by leasing 500 Mini E’s on a trial basis in New York and Los Angeles.
Secondly, the most significant technical innovation of the all-electric Mini shows that you can have low, or in this case zero carbon, and high growth. That’s good for consumers, good for producers and good for the planet. Low carbon and high growth is of huge importance to the British Government. Last month we hosted a meeting of international experts on electric vehicle technology to get up to 100 innovative low carbon demonstration vehicles on the road by the end of 2010. BMW are also involved.
Thirdly, I’m confident that the new Mini E, being launched on the eve of the original Mini’s 50th anniversary, will also capture people’s imagination and reflect what today’s consumers want: great design, innovation, engineering excellence and a high degree of environmental and social responsibility. I’d like to think that the Mini’s creator, Sir Alexander Issigonis would approve too.
I had the opportunity on Wednesday to speak to Columbia University's School of International & Public Affairs about the British response to terrorism. Terrorism is a menace which both the UK and US have suffered from and continue to face. People in New York and my hometown of London - as well as many other cities around the world - know this threat well and have experienced terrible loss and tragedy as a result of attacks in recent years.
Attacks in the US, the UK and many other countries across Africa, Europe and Asia have at their root a misguided and extreme interpretation of Islam. In the UK, threats have often come from people who have been brought up in our communities, while in the US, terrorism has been largely an external threat. So although our approaches have involved very substantial co-operation between our law-enforcement and intelligence agencies, we have different areas of emphasis.
In the UK, we have directed a tremendous amount of resources to the pursuit and disruption of terrorist activity. By 2011, the amount of money being invested in this area will have doubled since 2001. This has allowed us to increase the size of the Security Service and the number of police involved in countering violent extremism. As a result, we are regionalising our counter-terrorism effort in a way we never have before with four regional counter-terrorism policing hubs in London, Manchester, Birmingham and Leeds, with a fifth on the way. These units extend our reach and effectiveness in tackling terrorism.
We have convicted more individuals for terrorist offences. Since the beginning of last year, 81 people have been found guilty as a result of 23 operations. Part of this success is due to the strengthening of our counter-terrorism legislation, for example by widening the range of offences.
We work closely with Muslim communities in the UK, the vast majority of whom share our determination to tackle the extremists and their message. It's important to those communities, and to us, that we define the extremists not by their religion, but by their readiness to commit criminal acts of terrible violence. This is what makes them unacceptable in our society, and why there is broad cross-community condemnation of them and their methods.
It is clear that no country can counter these threats alone. The US is Britain's closest partner in the fight against international terrorism. This is perhaps most obvious in Afghanistan where UK and US troops are engaged in the difficult but vital mission of building a secure and stable country that can no longer harbour terrorists or be used as a base from which to plan and launch attacks on our countries. But in so many other parts of the world the close co-operation and sharing of intelligence, expertise, and technical capabilities between the UK and US makes our efforts to combat terrorism much stronger and more effective. Co-ordinating this joint approach is a priority for the British Embassy. It is essential for both our countries' security that our co-operation should continue and grow.