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Saturday, May 8, 2021

London mayor drums up business during Qatar visit, glosses over criticisms from home

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The strong alliance between the UK and Qatar will continue to grow in the form of future investments, including the introduction of new British universities here, London Mayor Boris Johnson has told Doha News.

Speaking to reporters on Saturday during a three-day visit here as part of a trade mission to the Gulf, Johnson said:

“My own feeling is that there’s a lot of momentum behind the relationship, much more than there was, say, four or five years ago. I think Doha is an extraordinary story of a vision to get something done.

He added:

“Our Universities Minister was here a few weeks ago with 12 university vice-chancellors. We can’t say who yet, but I personally think that Oxford and Cambridge should be here. And dozens of British schools are also considering link-ups.”

As yet, only one UK-based university, University College London, has a presence at Education City. And elite British private school Sherborne established a Qatar campus for primary and secondary education in 2009.

No complaints

As Qatar’s business interests in the UK grow, complaints about its involvement there have also risen. But when asked, Johnson said he “genuinely does not remember” any negative feeling about Qatar’s ownership of the Shard, Europe’s tallest building.

“When it was opened, it was a great event. People were queuing outside, waiting to go up it, very proud. And I don’t think anybody sensible remotely resents overseas investment in London. It’s a sign of confidence in the city.”

His comments conflict with some critical articles and interviews given at the time of the opening, including an op-ed in the New Statesman, and the opinion of some local residents. 

Referring to another major Qatar-funded project in London, the stalled re-development of the Chelsea Barracks site, Johnson said that he had received “assurances” from Qatar’s Prime Minister, Hamad bin Jassim Al Thani, that the project would go ahead as planned.

Advice with humility

Following London’s successful hosting of the Olympics, Johnson said that his city might be able to offer some advice to Qatar as it prepares to host the 2022 World Cup.

“How to get the public and private sector to work together to deliver on time, and on budget. And how to get a long term future out of it, a legacy. But we approach this in a spirit of humilityI am sure Qatar will do a brilliant job.”

Johnson confirmed that Qatar has so far invested an estimated $30.5 billion in the UK, most of it in London. “But let’s not forget that the UK is a massive investor in Qatar too,” he added. “$22bn via Shell alone – so this is a two-way street.”

The mayor also appeared to use the press conference to ask for Qatari backing for one of his pet projects, a potential new airport for London in the Thames estuary.

I think we should learn from Qatar,” he said. “You need more airport space, so you’ve just built a new airport! That’s what we should do. And by the way, that would produce a long term return for any investors who’d like to get together with us on that.” 

Visa complaints

Finally, the mayor responded to recent criticism from some Qataris about the visa application process for the UK, which they assert takes too long, is too expensive and unfair.  

You can count on me to continue arguing for the easing of restrictions” he said. “If there are particular problems, raise them with me. We want life to be easy for investors. Where there are difficulties, we need to iron them out.”

Thoughts?

Credit: Photo by Victoria Scott

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