Visit by Uruguayan Speaker highlights close friendship
On 16th and 17th January, BGIPU hosted the Speaker of the Uruguayan Lower House of Representatives, Dr Gerardo Amarilla, for a brief visit to Westminster. Speaker Amarilla was accompanied by Mr Jorge Gandini MP, who will take over the position as Speaker in 2018, as well as Mr Oscar Piquinela, Secretary of the IPU Group and Head of International Relations. The visit followed an outward BGIPU visit to Uruguay in September 2016, where Speaker Amarilla hosted the group in the Uruguayan General Assembly.
Despite the rainy English weather the programme started with a warm welcome to the Houses of Parliament by the Chairman of Ways and Means and Deputy Speaker, the Rt Hon Lindsay Hoyle MP, who co-lead the delegation to Uruguay in 2016, so it was a great opportunity to meet again. After a short overview of the Westminster System by Matthew Hamlyn, Clerk of the Overseas Office in the House of Commons, the small delegation was hosted by Baroness Meacher for a working lunch, to discuss the current state of drug policy in Uruguay and to exchange views on the broader reform process. In the afternoon, Speaker Amarilla and Mr Gandini MP enjoyed a visit to the Foreign &Commonwealth Office, where they were hosted by the Rt Hon Sir Alan Duncan MP, FCO Minister of State for Europe and the Americas, who was interested in hearing about the current state of affairs in Uruguay and the region, and both sides welcomed the improvement of relations between the UK and Argentina. The Uruguayan guests were of course also interested in getting an update on developments ahead of the UK triggering Article 50 to start the Brexit negotiations, and expressed their keenness to negotiate a Free Trade agreement with the UK in the near future.
Tuesday started with a tour of the Houses of Parliament, given by the knowledgeable and Spanish-speaking Chris Bryant MP, both of which the delegation greatly appreciated. This was followed by a roundtable discussion hosted by Mark Menzies MP, Chair of the Latin America APPG, and also a member of the delegation to Uruguay. Again the main topics of interest were the upcoming Brexit negotiations and future trade opportunities, but the issue of drug policy reform came up again, as well as concerns about future relations with the United States just before the inauguration of the new President. After a lunch hosted by BGIPU Chair Nigel Evans MP, who co-led the delegation to Uruguay, the delegation met with Rt Hon Lindsay Hoyle MP, where they discussed and compared responsibilities and powers of the Speaker in both parliaments, and it seemed that the conversation gave both Speaker Amarilla and (future Speaker) Mr Gandini some inspiration on what they could introduce in their parliament. They then had the chance to watch part of the debate in the Chamber on the new partnership with the EU following the statement by Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, the Rt Hon David Davis MP. The programme concluded with a reception hosted by the Uruguayan Ambassador to the UK, HE Mr Fernando Lopez-Fabregat.