BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN – The UK will continue to promote strong trade ties with Brunei when Britain formally leaves the European Union on Friday, the British high commissioner said.

Addressing the potential impact of Brexit on bilateral ties, Richard Lindsay said Brunei has significant trade with the UK and that economic relations will continue. 

“Our bilateral trading relations have an opportunity to grow and that will depend on the economic circumstances of both countries,” he told reporters in an interview.

Statistics from the British High Commission showed that bilateral trade stood at £203 million ($363 million) in 2018, a 61 percent increase from the previous year.

Brunei-UK relations after Brexit

The high commissioner said Brexit will have no direct impact on the sultanate, adding that the UK has an existing close relationship with Brunei particularly in the areas of economy, education and defence. 

“As I have said in the last two to three years, I see very little direct impact from Brexit on Brunei because Brunei’s trade with EU is very little,” he added.

The UK will no longer be a member of the European Union on January 31, 2020 following a 2016 referendum where 52 percent of voters chose to leave the EU, which has 27 remaining member states.

UK Conservative party leader Boris Johnson won the general election last December, which gave him a huge mandate to “get Brexit done” after multiple delays.

With a new prime minister and Conservative-majority government, Lindsay said he does not expect significant changes in the two countries’ relations.

Long-standing education ties

Lindsay said the UK remains the top destination for Bruneian students, given the deep historical ties between the two countries. 

He added that students who pursue their tertiary education in the UK will be eligible for the new post-study work visa for graduates, which takes effect this year.

The UK post-study work visa allows international students to stay in the UK after their graduation to work for up to two years.

“The post-study work visa is not Brexit-related but it is a great opportunity for Brunei students. I think it is a core part of our bilateral relationship that Brunei will continue to go study and enjoy the UK experience,” he said.

UK military presence in the Far East

The two countries have long-standing and strong defence ties as demonstrated by persistent engagement between British and Bruneian navies, with British warships making four visits to the sultanate in the past year.

The UK has stepped up naval engagement in the past two years, as part of a broader pivot to monitoring security in the Far East.

The British Forces Brunei is the only remaining UK military garrison in the Far East.

The British army in Brunei comprises an infantry battalion of Gurkhas who have been in the sultanate since 1962.

“We have global military presence including here in Brunei. We will continue to use that force for good in the world,” the envoy added.

Building new trade relationships

Britain is considering joining the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) to develop trade relations in the Asia-Pacific.

Lindsay said the UK is working hard on negotiating new trade deals as an independent, sovereign country.

Brunei is one of the 11 countries that signed the new CPTPP pact, which includes Australia, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam.

“That is something that the EU couldn’t do. We couldn’t do it as members of the EU but we could consider it outside [of the EU]”, he said.

The diplomat said the day that Brunei assumes the ASEAN chairmanship in January 2021, the UK would also be in a new trading relationship with the EU. 

Britain has until the end of this year — referred to as the implementation period — to negotiate its future trading relationship with the EU.

“Until the end of December [this year], trade, travel and businesses won’t change. The arrangement will be consistent but we will be in a new negotiation,” he said.

Lindsay said the UK will also start free trade negotiations with the US, Japan, Australia. 

“We would be doing that to help build mutual prosperity – a win-win opportunity to increase trade around the world,” he added.

The envoy said the UK intends to build and increase trade in all parts of the world including ASEAN. 

He said the UK Mission to ASEAN, which was officially opened in Jakarta on January 15, and the appointment of a UK envoy to ASEAN, Jon Lambe, is an indication of its intention to play an increasing role in the region.

The two-way trade between UK and ASEAN in 2018 was £37.2 billion ($66.5 billion). Over three million British nationals visit Southeast Asia each year while more than 40,000 people from ASEAN member states are studying in the UK.