Ladies and Gentlemen,
I cannot tell you how delighted my wife and I are to have returned to what your great poet Camões so poignantly described as “Reino Lusitano, onde a terra se acaba e o mar começa.” We are immensely grateful to you, Mr. President, and to Mrs. Cavaco Silva, for your wonderfully kind and generous hospitality this evening, and indeed for your words just now.
Mr. President, you may know that one of our best-known Prime Ministers, Lord Palmerston, observed at the end of the 19th Century that Britain had no perpetual allies or enemies, only perpetual interests. I have to say I am not entirely sure this thesis was borne out when, as European partners we were torn asunder in 1914, Portugal's own Prime Minister immediately declared that if Britain was at War then so was Portugal. In this act, friendship and interests were brought together. It is an act which has never been forgotten in my country and which followed in a tradition of mutual respect and affection stretching back to the Middle Ages. Indeed, the increasing popularity of "Pub Quizzes" in Britain means that a rather impressive number of my countrymen regularly score two points on a Friday evening for knowing that the Anglo-Portuguese Alliance is the oldest alliance in the world which is still in force!
Now it is difficult to imagine a stronger foundation on which to build a modern relationship – one which, based on that enduring friendship I mentioned, also succeeds in supporting the contemporary interests of both our countries by delivering concrete results.
In the past week or two, we have stood shoulder-to-shoulder in analysing and tackling fast-moving events in North Africa and the Middle East. All this takes place against a particularly difficult international economic backdrop. Needless to say, trade and investment have a vital role to play in tackling these problems. Portuguese goods such as port wine have an enduring popularity in Britain, not to mention, as any former Naval officer like myself will know, a very particular ritual of the wine being passed to the left (in naval parlance the “Port” side) around a dining table!
Over the years we have added an incredible array of other tangible products including, as I will see tomorrow, many of the organic salads we buy in our supermarkets in Britain. And then there are intangible goods such as research, technology and know-how. Talking of which, for more than three decades I have been working to remind people of the vital importance to our own economy of Nature’s economy – in other words, the precious Natural capital from which we need to draw a sustainable income for future generations. So, I was hugely interested to learn of your research and know-how in the development of a “Smart Grid” in Evora. As you will know better than me, this fascinating project is generating renewable energy and giving consumers sufficiently accurate and timely information about their energy consumption to enable them to make informed choices and, in many cases, reduce consumption.
As I said last month when I was invited for the second time in two years to address the European Parliament about the prospects for low-carbon economic growth, it is hard to overstate the importance of helping people to realize that climate change is a “clear and present danger”; that it is but one facet of an ominously gathering storm of resource depletion, ecosystem disintegration, unsustainable population growth and potential conflict; that we are all in it together; and that solutions will require change on a dramatic scale – the kind of change that will bring genuinely sustainable growth and prosperity by putting the maintenance of Nature’s own economy at the centre of a virtuous circle. I could not be more delighted, therefore, that our two countries are working together to tackle this threat, rather than simply pass it on to future generations.
Mr. President, let me conclude with a few words about perhaps the most important and durable ties of all: those between the people of our two countries. While it is very kind of you to host my wife and myself this evening, I can only say that it is kinder still of you to act as host to the 80,000 or so British people who live in Portugal for at least part of the year. I can only say how proud I am that the British community in Portugal see it as important to “give something back” to their adopted home by doing something that, dare I say it, British people often do rather well - volunteering. Be it through organizing sailing for disabled people in Cascais, restoring the Monserrate garden or the invaluable work of the Royal British Legion, I could not be more impressed by their determination to give some of their free time to help where they can.
Thank you again, Mr. President, for your wonderful hospitality this evening.