The Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, was the guest of honour at a luncheon at the W Hotel yesterday hosted by the Qatar British Business Forum. He was accompanied by Sir Edward Lister, Deputy Mayor for Planning and Dr Gerard Lyons, his Chief Economic Adviser.
Johnson is the leader of a British trade mission to the Arabian Gulf seeking to attract investment and strengthen long-standing ties to the region. After touring the UAE, Johnson broke his visit and flew back to London last week to attend the funeral of former prime minister Margaret Thatcher, and returned to Doha on Thursday.
The action-packed visit of the Conservative politician, renowned for his carefully cultivated eccentricity and mop of untidy blond hair, has included a series of high-level meetings with political, state and business leaders, senior members of the ruling family and investment authorities. But he also found time to tour the Katara Cultural Village and to attend the camel races at Al Shahaniyah.
Delivered in his trade-mark loud, witty and fast-moving style, Johnson’s speech to the assembled representatives of the British business community of Qatar was greeted with frequent laughter and applause.
He listed the prominent symbols of Qatari investment already in London: Harrods, the Chelsea Barracks site, the athletes’ accommodation at the Olympic Village and above all The Shard, which he was invited to open a few weeks ago. It was, he said, the tallest building in Europe, one of the most stunning to be built in London in the last one hundred years, “Erupting from the surface of London like a gigantic cosmic spear…in fact I’d thought of moving my offices there just so I could have a view of France!” The Shard sometimes seemed to him as though it is growing, and is a symbol of Qatari growing investment in the UK.
Johnson referred to the London Olympics last year, “in which Qatar got more medals than ever before,” and emphasised that Qatari drive, flair and vision in its investments was essential to Britain. On the subject of sport he spoke of his visit to the camel races while in Qatar, and was impressed with the robot jockeys which have replaced the juvenile riders. “Qatar has invented the remote control camel,” he joked, “before we have even installed the first automatic train on the London tube!”
Speaking of London and the rapid changes taking place, Johnson said that it was the fastest-growing city in Europe, with the population last year increasing by 600,000. Crime has dropped by 14% since he became mayor in 2008, transport has been upgraded and extended and huge investment has been made to improve the quality of life: ranging from the planting of thousands of trees to the ‘Boris bikes’ now to be seen all over London.
“London is a leader in the financial service industry,” he continued, “and is fast becoming a ‘tech’ city, with 40,000 people employed in nanotech, biotech and so on.”
Johnson concluded, “We aim to build on the achievements so far and intensify our commercial contacts with Qatar. We plan to extend not only our commercial and financial but also our cultural and intellectual partnerships. Our job is to make all our Qatari friends feel welcome in London.”
Listing the attractions that London offers to people from the region who either want to invest or to establish homes there, he boasted, “We have more museums than in Paris, and even more Michelin-starred restaurants than in that city. We have twice as many bookshops as New York, less rainfall than Rome, we export tea to China, rice to India, bikes to Holland, sand to Saudi Arabia, chocolate cake to France – and Piers Morgan to America!”
“Qatar has given us The Shard, and we’ve given Qatar our traffic system. And such is British genius that we’ll be tendering for the metro system designed to avoid it.”
After his speech Johnson answered questions from the audience, ranging from anxieties about London’s water supply to the number of immigrants. On the subject of immigration he pointed out that, “London was founded by a bunch of pushy Italian immigrants [the Romans] in 43 AD, has always had immigrants and has benefited over the centuries from the contribution that immigrants bring to the city.”
“And no,” he finished in answer to a final question referring to a recent incident involving the mayor, “it is not true that I have any plans to descend from The Shard on a zip-wire!”
Source: Caye Global, Gulf Times
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