BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN – British High Commissioner John Virgoe has described Brunei as the United Kingdom’s “closest friend in the region” as bilateral ties continued to grow over the past year.

Speaking during a private lunch to mark Queen Elizabeth II’s 95th birthday on Thursday, the British envoy welcomed the agreement to establish a strategic dialogue between the two countries.

Virgoe also thanked Brunei’s support for the UK to become ASEAN’s 11th dialogue partner.

Southeast Asian leaders last month accepted the UK’s application to join as the regional bloc’s dialogue partner as the British government seeks to forge closer economic ties with Asia after its withdrawal from the European Union.

The British High Commissioner added that he aims to make Brunei-UK relations relevant to all Bruneians, especially the younger generation and the sultanate’s diverse communities, while working together to tackle climate change and other global issues.

“This is very special year, in which Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II turns 95 and His Majesty the Sultan of Brunei Darussalam turns 75.

“Between them, they have reigned for 122 years. Their personal friendship mirrors the closeness and warmth of the relationship between our two countries,” he said.

The traditional Queen’s Birthday Party Reception was replaced with a small private lunch at the British High Commissioner’s residence this year as celebrations have been scaled back due to the passing of Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh.

Queen Elizabeth II celebrates two birthdays — her actual birthday on April 21 and her official birthday is marked on the second Saturday of June each year.

Several Bruneian ministers, judicial leaders, the business community, civil society and youth joined the luncheon.