"Brexit: a success for the UK and its partners"

In a wide-ranging interview with Flandersnews, British Ambassador Alison Rose speaks of the many reasons why the UK and Belgium should enjoy the closest possible relationship after the UK leaves the European Union. Ms Rose says she feels empathy for British expats concerned about their future now the UK is leaving the EU as the details of the future situation are uncertain. Following the recent rise in hate crimes in the UK, she adds that it is highly unlikely that any Belgians visiting the UK would face any problems.

Ambassador Alison Rose told Flandersnews that forging a new relationship with the EU was absolutely vital. The British Prime Minister, Theresa May, has said bringing about this relationship would not be easy or quick. There would be difficult moments ahead but also opportunities. The British people had decided to leave the EU and the government is determined to make this a success for the UK and its partners in Europe.

Ambassador Rose, Belgians are traditionally extremely pro-EU. Have you had a hard time explaining the decision of the British people to leave the EU?

The result of the referendum came as a shock to many Belgians. This is a sign of how important Belgians feel the relationship with the UK is. The UK will leave the EU, but we won't be leaving Europe. We want the closest possible relationship with our neighbours. Of course, there will be more controls on Europeans coming to the UK. At the same time the UK favours the freest possible trade relationship both for goods and services that benefits both Belgium and the UK. We wish to work closely with Belgium on all kinds of issues including foreign policy.

Many people here don't understand why it's taking so long to invoke article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty that triggers the start of the exit process. Why is it taking so long?

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The Prime Minister, Theresa May, has said that this will not happen this year as a lot of work needs to be done. Previous governments didn't support Brexit and it would not have been appropriate to prepare for it. The current government does support Brexit and is doing the thorough preparation work that is necessary to make it a success.

In a statement to the House of Commons the Secretary of State for Exiting the EU, David Davis, told MPs that over fifty sectoral working groups were looking at the nature of the relationship we currently have with the EU, working out what the best sort of relationship this would be in the future.

This is not a simple process and we want to base this new relationship on evidence and sound analysis.

In recent days Britons living in Belgium have appeared on our screens. There is great anger and frustration about Brexit. People are rushing to get hold of an EU passport through Belgian or Irish citizenship. Are you able to reassure Brits in Belgium about their status?

In the course of my work I meet a lot of British people and I hear the concerns that they have. I have a lot of empathy with what they are saying. It's an uncertain situation, but I cannot give them any false sense of when this will be resolved and will become clearer. Our Prime Minister has said that she wants to work out and guarantee the rights of EU citizens in the UK and cannot envisage a situation in which the rights of EU citizens in the UK would not be upheld as long as the rights of UK citizens elsewhere in the EU are also guaranteed and respected. We are in the EU until we are not in the EU and until then all rights remain exactly the same.

There have been reports about an increase in hate crimes in the UK. The killing of a Polish man is being investigated as a hate crime. Are Belgians in the UK safe? Are you able to reassure Belgians travelling to the UK?

There has been an increase in hate crimes since the referendum. All politicians and police services have said that hate crimes are unacceptable. We don't tolerate such behaviour in the UK and police take it very seriously. I personally think it's highly unlikely that Belgians visiting the UK would face this problem. However, it's not impossible and if it does happen they should report it to the police who will take it seriously.

Heads of state and government including Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel will be involved in negotiating the UK's relationship outside the EU, what arguments would you put forward to encourage Mr Michel to give Britain a good deal for its position outside the EU?

Since the referendum Mr Michel has said he wants a strong relationship between the UK and the EU.

Trade relations between Belgium and the UK are extremely important. Both countries represent important import and export markets for each other. Inward investment in both directions too is crucial. These are many reasons why we need a strong relationship. There are important energy links. A large gas interconnector already operates between the Belgian port of Zeebrugge and the UK and a similar electricity interconnector will open soon. Both countries will continue to work together to combat terrorism, organised crime and people-trafficking. We are both members of NATO and the UN and in the fight against Daesh (IS). Both countries enjoy long historical relationships too. There are lots of good reasons to maintain the closest relationship. The British people have decided to leave the EU, but Britain is not leaving Europe. Geographically this would not be possible. We are not turning our backs on the opportunities and challenges that Europe faces.

The threat posed by IS (Daesh) means that Belgium's security services are under tremendous pressure. Are the UK authorities able to assist Belgium in any way?

There is an increased terrorist threat to the whole of Western Europe. The UK works closely with the Belgian authorities. Recently several people suspected of financing terrorism were arrested and charged in the West Midlands of England. These are arrests that were only possible thanks to close co-operating between British police, MI5 and the Belgian and French security services.

In France some politicians are questioning the Le Touquet agreement that allows border checks on each other's soil. Why do you believe the similar arrangement that exists in Belgium is in this country's interest?

First and foremost, it's in the interest of the passengers. Hundreds of thousands of people travel between the UK and Belgium on Eurostar every year.

Many Belgian, British and international passengers are regular travellers and more often than not they prefer border controls at the beginning of their journey whether that be at St Pancras or the Gare du Midi (Zuidstation).

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