On Monday 27 September, Phuketindex went to film British Ambassador to Thailand Quinton Quayle giving a press conference in English plus a short statement in Thai at the Andara Resort & Villas in Kamala; then later in the evening we also filmed the Ambassador and British Honorary Consul Martin Carpenter hosting a Queen’s Birthday Party at Blue Elephant restaurant in Phuket town for about 250 guests, including students from the British International School Phuket singing the national anthems of Britain and Thailand.
In part 1 of the videos, during the press conference with local media in the morning, he said the Queen’s Birthday Parties, including here in Phuket, were delayed from the usual dates in June due to the political problems in Bangkok, but with HM the Queen’s agreement, they were rearranged for September and sponsored fully by local businesses, so no expense for taxpayers. He wanted to meet the local community.
There were about 5000 British expats living or working in Phuket and the number of visitors from Britain coming to Thailand was almost one million each year; (and as Phuketindex revealed recently there were at least about 65,000 British tourists to Phuket in first half of 2010); so he said Phuket was a key centre for Brits and why they had an Honorary Consul based here.
He stressed the close relationship between Britain and Thailand, especially in their royal families, with the top two longest reigning monarchs in the world; and up to 50,000 Thais, a record number, including many business people and students visited Britain each year, with only 10% refused visas in applications, sometimes 600 a day.
He noted that there was about 5 billion US$ in trade between the two countries but mostly in Thailand’s favour 2-1. Britain was the biggest European investor in Thailand, with 8 million US$, with 650 stores of Tesco-Lotus leading the biggest operation out of UK, and even exporting 11 billion baht’s worth of Thai goods there. Other prominent British companies included British Gas, banks like Standard Chartered, HSBC and Barclays; & Triumph motorcycles made in Thailand. Meanwhile Thai companies in UK, like TUF were buying John West Salmon in the canned fish market; a steel company for 500 million US$ in the north east; and in sports, King Power just bought Leicester City football club; Chang were still main sponsors of Everton FC; Singha of both Man Utd and Chelsea.
He was also helping to promote England’s bid to host the World Cup in 2018 pushing for support from the Thai Football Association’s vote in December, which he said was not conditional on whether England still come to play Thailand in June 2011, as Phuketindex also asked if he could persuade the England team to pop down to Phuket as well and revealed to him that his favourite club team West Bromwich Albion’s manager had recently bought a Phuket condominium (readers can see more at http://phuketnews.phuketindex.com/business/roberto-di-matteo-head-coach-of-west-bromwich-albion-fc-bought-a-condo-in-phuket-176412.html); so he was very happy to learn that and maybe the teams might also come to Phuket! He would like an Asian fan club for West Bromwich Albion set up too.
In part 2 of the videos, and in response to questions about British suspect Lee Aldhouse, wanted in Phuket over the recent alleged murder of former US ex-Marine Dashawn Longfellow, the Ambassador said Mr Aldhouse has been arrested, is still in remand, in custody of British authorities, as of that morning. The police are in close touch. It requires a judicial decision whether or not to extradite him. He could not comment or speculate on an extradition bid from Thai authorities saying that the issue was up to the courts. “Mr Aldhouse has the right for defence and the evidence has to be considered.”
A police liaison officer from Serious Crimes Agency at the British Embassy in Bangkok was involved in the case, he said, and to ensure criminals do not use Thailand as a base, and to crackdown on pedophiles, drug smugglers, etc and to keep links and share information with the Thais, at a low profile.
Asked about the controversial issue of whether expat Brits will be pursued to pay UK tax, the Ambassador advised them to seek expert advice. He said the embassy could not offer guidelines but would help if asked. It is individuals’ responsibility to pay tax.
He knows about the current Thai census of everybody living here, but the ambassador said the embassy was keen for British citizens to register with them online so they could be contacted if necessary in an emergency. If there are fast-moving events, they email travel advice alterations out to subscribers immediately.
He was very pleased that in the events of March, April, & May, when 91 people were reported killed and 2000 injured, not a single Brit was amongst them, and he’d like to think that was because they gave the right sort of travel advice.
He said it was important to judge the travel advice correctly. ”Our prime responsibility is to our own British citizens. I love Thailand, I love the Thai people, but I am representing British interests and the safety and security of British citizens has to be paramount and for their convenience for holidays and report situation upcountry.” They only had blanket advice on Thailand for a matter of a few days. As soon as the situation was clarified, then they lifted it, as one of the first. They advised then “non-essential travel.” They had to err on the side of safety.
He responded to Phuketindex whether he took advice from Martin on the situation in Phuket, saying it was quite difficult when there was large number of tanks, machine guns, and grenades in the capital, a state of emergency in half the country, who knows what might have happened (elsewhere). Quite luckily no tourists were injured. As state of emergency was so far reaching, with most tourists coming through Bangkok, he said then “Come to Phuket great, but if the airport closed, who knows.”
In Thailand and Phuket, it’s much safer here than in parts of Europe. But there are other things like scams, pickpockets, accidents on jet skis and motorcycles.
He raised safety in swimming when meeting a Phuket mayor on his last visit, noticing the lifeguards and signs. They take it very seriously.
He said the quarterly meeting of Honorary Consuls and embassy representatives with the Phuket Governor, introduced this year, was great to share info, get contact numbers, and for example after the air accident they got good cooperation, and the tsunami was a good lesson. He has served 3 years as Ambassador and was awaiting news on his next tour.
In the 3rd video, he also spoke in fluent Thai to summarise his visit here.
In the 4th video, at the Queen’s Birthday Party at Blue Elephant restaurant in Phuket town in the evening, he enjoyed greeting and meeting many local residents and leaders, gave bilingual speeches saying how much he enjoyed local hospitality, having first come to Phuket 30 years ago. He then raised a toast to HM the Queen, and together with Martin Carpenter thanked the many sponsors and British International schools singers of the national anthems, including Chloe Findley, an 11 year old Australian/Kiwi girl, who learnt to sing the Thai song in only 3 days! Not sure the Ambassador can even sing that well, but we wish him well on his farewell to Phuket.