“The UK is still very proudly European”

H.E. Lindsay Skoll CMG, British Ambassador to Austria, speaks about her objectives, British-Austrian post-Brexit relations and – as former Deputy Head of Mission in Russia – she outlines her interpretation of the Russian invasion of Ukraine and her take on diplomacy’s role in this regard.

As Ambassador, you represent both Her Majesty The Queen and the UK government here in Austria. What are the key areas you would like to work on during your term?

You are right to point out the special dual nature of my role, especially in this very special Platinum Jubilee year for Her Majesty The Queen, as we celebrate 70 years of incredible service by her to the UK and the Commonwealth. Being her personal representative is a very big privilege and honour. Whether it be representing Her Majesty or my government, my mission here is clear: to build on our strong tradition of friendship, mutual respect and common values, and to advance our joint interests across a whole range of issues. This cooperation – both in my bilateral and multilateral roles – is incredibly extensive, ranging from global and internal security challenges, trade and investment, academic, science and research, to climate change, gender championing and media freedom, amongst others. As two world cultural superpowers, I want to put cultural life – and access to the arts in all its diversity – firmly at the heart of all that we do together. I also want to travel to every part of Austria to see for myself the proud traditions of the various Länder and to explore further connections and exchange with the different parts of the UK. Finally, with a farming background and love for the countryside, sustainable agriculture and wine production, and horses are also personal passions I’m keen to pursue here!

How did Brexit influence the relations between UK and Austria?

The UK is still very proudly European. Not least in our history, identity, culture and values. Brexit has changed only our institutional relationship. All of our bilateral areas of cooperation remain as strong as ever. As well as our vibrant bilateral relationship, we continue to align closely with Austria in international fora such as the UN and OSCE headquartered in Vienna. Yes, new trading rules have required adaptation by certain businesses, and there are new tariffs to consider for deliveries from the UK, but most companies are adjusting well. Despite the global economic challenges of the Covid pandemic, war in Ukraine and rising energy prices, our trade and investment trend is strongly positive and continuing to grow.

Considering your experience as Deputy Head of Mission in Russia, how would you interpret the Russian invasion of Ukraine?

It is a tragedy. For Ukraine, for Russia, and for all the values of freedom, liberty and international rules-based law that we hold dear. This is Putin’s war of choice – a calculated, pre-meditated and outrageous attack on a sovereign nation. It is vital that the free world stands up to such aggression and imposes a terrible cost to Putin and his corrupt regime; that we also exclude Russia from the global economy and international organisations that depend on the rule of law and norms of civilisation and decency to function. Whilst completely shocking, I am afraid that I saw a glimpse of what was to come following Putin’s completely reckless decision to use a chemical weapon on the streets of UK in Salisbury in 2018. This could have killed thousands of innocent people. Putin has no regard for the sanctity of human life or basic freedoms. Above all, I feel great sadness for the many wonderful, warm-hearted people of Russia, who are yet again condemned to live in a subjugated country run by fear. This war is absolutely not in their name.

Many European leaders keep emphasizing the importance of diplomacy in this regard. What is your take on that?

As a diplomat I of course agree that we should seek diplomatic solutions, and the path of words, never violence. But this requires an international rules-based system in which everyone abides by those rules. Putin has shown he does not respect democratic choices, and has wilfully broken international law. We cannot stand by and let Ukraine suffer any further. This is a time to marry diplomacy with hard-headedness. UK will always stand up to bullies and uphold freedoms; that is why we have already spent more than two billion dollars in leading from the front in assisting Ukraine militarily, economically and in humanitarian assistance.

Photos: SOCIETY/Pobaschnig