Supporting Dubai’s bid for Expo 2020 very publicly was a big deal for the UK. We had never come out publicly to support an Expo candidate city before. But Dubai was different. Let me explain why.
There were some excellent competitors among the Expo candidate cities. But we judged Dubai’s bid was outstanding. There were many reasons for this.
Firstly, Expo is a great showcase for innovation – it seemed to us in the UK that Dubai is one of the most extraordinary success stories of urban innovation – the iconic structures, the vision for its development. This is a fabulous backdrop for an Expo host city. Second, Expo is about the future. Just like the Great Exhibition in the UK, one of the first Expo-type events over a century and a half ago, Dubai 2020 will look to the shift in global power we will see during this century, acting as a Middle Eastern hub in a globally connected world.
As the UK, we wanted to support that vision for the UAE and to become a partner for it.
The question then was whether, as the UK, we would go public about our support. Countries don’t normally do this. Typically, candidate countries lobby ahead of the vote but never really know who was going to vote for whom.
We took a different view this time. We were clear that the UK wanted Dubai to win. So we started to think about how we could help make that happen with the UK’s unique position of influence, being the only country which combines being at the heart of the Commonwealth, one of the UN Security Council’s permanent 5 members and within the EU, we judged that a public declaration of the UK’s confidence in Dubai could help persuade others.
Given that the UK was also recognised as the host of one of the most successful Olympics ever in 2012, having our weight behind Dubai’s bid would really underpin the city’s credibility.
We engaged at length with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Dubai authorities to see how we could partner most effectively to maximise our impact. The UK’s Foreign Secretary William Hague then announced the British decision to Parliament, very publicly, and many of us – myself included – went on to TV, Twitter and the print media to publicise British support.
An editorial by Prime Minister Cameron setting out the case for Dubai 2020 was probably the single most important element of our campaign, along with the conversations which followed will all global leaders who asked us about Britain’s position. Clearly the Emiratis were in the lead, but I am proud of the British diplomacy which spread the word alongside UAE’s efforts.
Was this worthwhile?
Undoubtedly, I am delighted with the result, along with all of us from the UK. I am even more pleased that we have been able to contribute to Dubai’s triumph. This is a great achievement for the UAE. The UK, with all of its experience of moving from winning the Olympics bid in 2005 to delivering a world class London Olympics 2012, look forward to partnering with Dubai wherever we can help the realisation of the dream that is Dubai 2020.