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Look East: Forging Closer Ties With Our Nordic Neighbours

09/08/2016 16:43 | Updated 09 August 2016
Dave Thompson/PA Archive

Following the decision to leave the EU, there's been a lively debate about our future relations with the rest of the world. The USA and the Commonwealth have figured strongly. Yet, we shouldn't overlook allies nearer to home, in particular, our Nordic neighbours.

Our relationship goes back a long way. Admittedly, the initial arrival of the Vikings in AD 793 wasn't a triumph of peaceful diplomacy. But in the 1,300 years since, strong ties have been forged between our peoples, our businesses and our nations.

This is, in part, because as northern Europeans we share many social and cultural values. We believe in free speech, in diversity and tolerance towards others. Personal modesty and a quiet patriotism are a common characteristic. We have a strong work ethic, and value the merits of both enterprise and hard work.

We are pragmatic in how to tackle global issues, eschewing grand visions, instead wanting to stand up for the little guy. Within the EU it's often been our Nordic friends who have worked with us, against the more protectionist 'Club Med' nations. And we all back free trade.

So I believe there are sound foundations for strengthening our political and trade ties with the Nordic countries. Already the Nordic & Baltic nations represent our sixth largest export market. However, we can do more. As the PM's Trade & Investment Envoy I have been able to help more of their companies settle here, whilst promoting our exports there.

Yet I would contend the UK should now look to strengthen our relationship, strategically. Let me suggest two particular areas where we should forge new relationships: in energy and in our mutual security.

Take energy. The North Sea has been a common source of energy for us and the Norwegians for at least a generation. Now, together with the Danes and the Swedes, it's a shared home for the next generation of renewable energy. The prospect of an interconnector between us and Norway would help us tap into not just their surplus energy, but link us to the whole of Scandinavia's sources of low carbon power. If Iceland were to be connected, with its large surplus of low carbon energy, we could then free us all from dependence on oil and gas from the Middle East, and from Putin's Russia.

Which leads on to the issue of our mutual security. It's clear that Russia's foreign policy is becoming increasingly assertive, constantly testing the will and capability of its near neighbours. This is especially worrying for the three Baltic countries, for whom a significant portion of their population is of Russian origin. After recent events in the Crimea and the Ukraine those concerns have spread to other Nordic neighbours such as Finland and Sweden, who find their air, sea and cyber space constantly facing incursions.

Whilst Denmark and Norway are NATO members, Sweden and Finland are not. So relying on NATO's collective defence is not an option. This problem will only grow as the Arctic opens up for trade and navigation from Asia, an issue on which we have yet to properly focus.

My point here is that we face a common problem and one which we can best counter together. The sharing of intelligence; securing our energy supplies; closer military planning and working; and protecting shipping lanes are all worthwhile outcomes, which would benefit both us and all of the Nordic nations.

So, in the debate about our future international relations, I believe we need to see our Nordic neighbours as a priority. We have much in common and our shared values could prove to be a sound foundation for forging a new relationship.

Mark Prisk is the Conservative MP for Hertford and Stortford, and the Prime Minister's trade and investment envoy to the Nordic and Baltic nations

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