Bilateral exchange with counterparts from Belgium reflects close & enduring ties
On 11 February 2021, BGIPU convened a virtual bilateral meeting between UK and Belgian Parliamentarians. The meeting was moderated by Damien Moore MP, Chair of the Belgium APPG. In attendance from the UK side was: Baroness Hooper, Chris Loder MP, the Duke of Wellington, Ian Paisley MP, Lord Balfe, Lord Kirkhope and Margaret Ferrier MP. From the Belgian Federal Parliament, BGIPU were pleased to welcome: Senator Karl Vanlouwe (Chair of the Belgium UK Friendship Group), Senator Andries Gryffroy (Chair of the Belgian IPU Group), Senator Mark Demesmaeker, Senator Maaike De Vreese and Ms Kathleen Verhelst.
The opening remarks were made by Mr Moore who warmly welcomed the Belgian Parliamentarians to the meeting. He stressed the importance of the bilateral relationship to improve understanding of the others’ perspective and to have shared goals. He also highlighted the important trade links between our two counties and the need to work collaboratively to ensure frictionless trade continues between the UK and EU countries. Ms Verhelst expressed her concern about the increased paperwork required to export certain products to Belgium; she gave fish as an example.
The discussion moved on to the topic of legal and illegal migration. One of the Belgian delegates mentioned that illegal immigration had doubled in 2020. Lord Kirkhope spoke passionately about the need to tackle the misery and economic deprivation, which is the impetus behind the flow of people into Europe, rather than simply blocking people from entering our countries. Delegates also commented on the worrying link between human trafficking, gangs and security threats.
The final topic before the end of the meeting was COP and action towards the goals of the Paris Agreement and the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. This is particularly relevant as the UK is going to host COP26 in Glasgow later this year. Mr Moore highlighted that there had been no shift in legislation in Britain post Brexit. There was joint agreement that the ‘Green Revolution’ is the utmost priority looking forwards.
Throughout the bilateral meeting, parliamentarians from both the UK and Belgium spoke of the importance of collaboration during a time of great upheaval. There was mutual commitment to continue close ties, in terms of trade, development and foreign policy, in the future. Communication is vital to ensure understanding and such bilateral interactions make this possible. Both delegations expressed their gratitude for the opportunity to have such a fruitful bilateral exchange and hoped for similar meetings in the future.