The year 2016 has been a very important milestone in Nepal's diplomatic relations with United Kingdom. It marked two hundred years since the establishment of the bilateral ties. British ambassador to Nepal Richard Morris played a major role to make the bi-centenarian year a great success. Ambassador Morris had presented his credentials to the President of Nepal on 26 November 2015. Closing a long gap, high level visits took place between the two countries. British Prince Harry visited Nepal for two weeks, spending time with earthquake victims. The Nepalese foreign minister went on a visit to United Kingdom. Before coming to Nepal, Morris had served as the Head of Pacific Department at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office since January 2013. Between 2008 and 2012 Richard Morris was HM Consul General Sydney and Director General Trade and Investment (Australasia). Before that, between January 2005 and June 2008, he was Deputy Head of Mission and HM Consul General at the British Embassy in Mexico City. Morris had entered the Foreign and Commonwealth Office via an open competition in 1990. Born in Worcestershire on November 1, 1967, Morris married Alison in 1992. The couple have one daughter and two sons. In his spare time, Morris enjoys long-distance running, reading, travel, music and spending time with his family. As Nepal and United Kingdom have completed the bicentennial programs, Ambassador Morris, in a written interview to New Spotlight, highlights various aspects of the bilateral relations.
It has been 200 years since the establishment of the diplomatic relationship between Nepal and the UK. How do you view and assess the past, present and future of our relationship?
2016 was the bicentenary year of relations between our two countries. The two hundred year relationship gives us many things. I think the most important is a really strong foundation as we look to the future. As you know, our relationship has many pillars: political; military/Gurkhas; development assistance; people-to-people; cultural and educational. We are committed to work with Nepal to build a modern, forward looking, productive partnership between our countries in the years ahead.
How do you assess the current status of the people to people interaction between Nepal and Britain?
We enjoy excellent people to people relations between Nepal and the UK. We have strong relations between our civil society and non-government organisations, as well as private and commercial companies. Through these relations, we exchange quality support, information and knowledge between the Nepalese and British communities and civil societies. In addition, forty thousand visitors come from the UK every year to enjoy the beautiful scenery, comfortable climate, diverse cultures and traditional hospitality of the Nepalese people. And of course many Nepalese travel in the other direction; there is a diaspora of over one hundred thousand living, working, and studying in the United Kingdom.
How do you see the exchange of some high-level visits including the visit of British Prince Harry?
It was our honour to welcome HRH Prince Harry in Nepal last year as we were celebrating the bicentenary of relations between our two countries. Various other members of the Royal family, including the Queen have visited Nepal. And we have a regular exchange of visits by Ministers of both of our Governments. These visits highlight the importance of the relationship between the UK and Nepal.
As a major development partner of Nepal, how do you view DFID’s development support to Nepal?
The UK is one of the largest bilateral donors to Nepal. Nepal still suffers chronic poverty caused by a complex set of interrelated factors including gender, caste, ethnicity, age, religion, disability, language and geography, after emerging from 10 years of civil war in 2006. Our support works to reduce political instability, boost economic growth and economic inclusion, deliver basic services, and increase resilience to natural disasters, with the aim of Nepal graduating from least developed country status by 2022. DFID’s plan is based on clear evidence of performance, only working on programmes where results can be clearly demonstrated. DFID is seen as a major partner in supporting the Government of Nepal to achieve its development goals.
Can you explain British support to Nepal’s social sectors such as education, and the outcome of those supports?
DFID’s objective is to support the Government of Nepal’s aspirations of graduating from LDC status by 2022, and for poverty reduction through high economic growth with productive employment and just distribution of wealth. It does this through 3 key strategies – Harnessing Nepal’s Opportunities for Transformative change, Delivering Immediate Benefits to the Poor, and Safeguarding Nepal’s Future from Future Shocks and Stresses.
DFID work in Nepal has been very impactful. In education, its support to the government’s education programme helped the net enrolment rate (NER) in primary education reach 96.2 percent in 2015. UKaid funded programmes helped create at least 230,000 new jobs. More than 4200km of roads in rural areas have been constructed, upgraded or maintained through UKaid programmes such as the Rural Access Programme and 4 million Nepalis are now more resilient to climate change and disaster. In the health sector, hundreds of thousands of unwanted pregnancies have been averted, helping reduce infant and maternal mortality rates. (Data - DFID Nepal Operation Plan, 2015)
All of this has improved livelihoods for the poorest of the poor in Nepal, reinforcing DFID’s role as leading the UK’s work to end extreme poverty.
As Gurkhas have been serving in the British Army for over two hundred years, how do you see the role of Gurkhas in the British Army in the future?
Every British Gurkha soldier is an ambassador for Nepal, and the Brigade of Gurkhas remains a vital part of the British Army’s military capability. Both battalions of the Royal Gurkha Rifles and the three main Gurkha corps units have deployed many times on critical operations in Afghanistan. I was personally immensely proud that, in the wake of the devastating earthquakes of 2015, squadrons from the Queen’s Gurkha Engineers were deployed on Operation Marmat providing relief and humanitarian support throughout the country. With the drawdown of UK forces in Afghanistan in 2014, Gurkha soldiers continue to be deployed in Afghanistan in security roles in Kabul, providing support to the Afghan National Army Officer Academy.
The two battalions of the Royal Gurkha Rifles rotate every three years between Kent in the UK and Brunei, with the next change planned for this summer. The Brunei battalion provides the UK with a jungle trained unit. The size of the Brigade of Gurkhas is to grow by around 25% in the next couple of years - a reflection of the high regard in which Gurkhas are held for their rich heritage and outstanding achievements on operations.
There are lots of confusions in Nepal regarding the Brexit, how do you explain? Also, Britain is Nepal’s largest development partner. What implications will Nepal have to face following Brexit?
The UK voted to leave the European Union in the 23 June 2016 EU referendum. The government is now preparing to leave the EU in the best possible way for the UK’s national interest as we look to trigger Article 50, the process by which we will formally leave the EU, by the end of March 2017.
Our Prime Minister, Theresa May, is committed to ensuring that the UK emerges from this period of change stronger, fairer, more united and more outward-looking than ever before. We have the potential, talent and ambition to be a truly Global Britain, a country that goes out into the world to build relationships with old friends and new allies alike; a great, global trading nation that is respected around the world and strong, confident and united at home.
Outside of the EU we will have better control over where we are spending our money. We are helping countries in the developing world leave aid dependency behind to become our trading partners of the future by playing our part in reducing the barriers to trade, developing markets, reducing red tape and by creating stable business environments where British companies can invest and create jobs.
We will tackle the global challenges of our time – poverty and disease, mass migration, insecurity, conflict and climate change – all of which are in our national interest. As the world leader in its field, our Department for International Development will continue to work with the EU in the strongest way possible to address these issues.
Until exit negotiations are concluded, the UK remains a full member of the European Union and all the rights and obligations of EU membership remain in force. During this period the Government will continue to negotiate, influence and work with the EU to secure UK priorities for development spending.