This coming Wednesday marks one of the most important events of the year at the Mansion House when I host the ambassadors and high commissioners to the UK, at the annual Easter Banquet.
As well as being an important fixture on the diplomatic calendar, it also affords an opportunity for me to thank the Foreign and Commonwealth Office for the fantastic support it provides when I travel the world – from Athens to Zambia – helping strengthen commercial ties and drum up new business for UK plc.
As I look forward to this unique forum for discussion among the international community, I am reflecting on my experiences of the countries I have visited thus far, as part of my year in office.
First up was Malta for the Commonwealth Business Forum before the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting – confirming my belief that we have a fantastic trading bloc on our doorstep in the form of the Commonwealth, with whom we should be looking to do more. Next, I travelled to the Gulf, where diversification away from oil industry reliance was a key priority. During my meetings with heads of government, central banks, and business, I stressed the unique expertise and support the City can provide in meeting their needs.
Trips to Angola, Zambia and Mauritius in February followed – very different economies, on different paths to achieving prosperity, but with real vibrancy and ample opportunities for growth apparent in all. Mauritius has set itself an ambitious programme to become a local international financial centre and, in the City of London and across the UK, we have the services and skills to support young markets like these to move forwards and achieve sustainable growth.
Last month’s visit to India enabled me to build further on the financial links that were strengthened during Prime Minister Modi’s visit last year. And meanwhile, back here in the UK, I have a significant programme of visits to regional business hubs in Belfast, Edinburgh, Aberdeen, Glasgow, Liverpool, Manchester, Leeds, Sheffield, York and Durham. The Northern Powerhouse has a great future and I am committed to championing its industries and expertise.
In my Easter Banquet speech, a number of the City and UK’s priorities for healthy business and communities will be touched upon – including global and cyber security, Green Finance and, of course, the EU referendum. I will also reflect on our moral responsibility to help refugees from terrible situations in their home countries. In the City Corporation, we are donating significantly to the Disaster Emergency Committee, funding a refugee centre in London via the Corporation’s charitable arm, the City Bridge Trust, and working with other London councils to help house children who are seeking asylum. Inaction is simply not an option, and we must act now to prevent challenges growing and evolving – now and in the future.
While my foreign visits through the year look to develop and build on business ties, we must also use them as an opportunity to promote diplomacy. The City has both welcomed and supported global talent for centuries. Failure to do so, to adopt an isolationist approach, goes against everything that we stand for.