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David Davis: Estonia and the UK will remain close partners after Brexit

Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, David Davis, writes in Postimees ahead of his meeting with Estonia's Brexit Chief Negotiator, Matti Maasikas, in Tallinn.

David Davis: Estonia and the UK will remain close partners after Brexit

Britain and Estonia share much in common. From our belief that healthcare should be offered to all, regardless of background, to the importance we place on the defence of western values and democracy.

And it is in that spirit of shared values and friendship that I come to Tallinn today.

The message I bring with me is a simple one – Britain will always prioritise the important relationship between our two nations, now more than ever as we seek a strong partnership with the EU even after we leave its institutions.

Our deep relationship extends back decades, starting during the War of Independence in 1918 when the UK sent a Royal Navy flotilla to secure Estonia’s freedom.

The British servicemen who gave their lives in that conflict are commemorated in the Estonian Defence Forces military cemetery in Tallinn.

And that strong military partnership continues today. Not only are we fully signed up members of NATO, but we are also two of only 5 countries that meet the spending target of 2% of GDP on defence.

Our troops fought together under the NATO banner in Afghanistan, and are now working together to defeat Daesh in Iraq and Syria.

And you need look no further for an indication of the importance Britain places on our relationship than the fact that in April this year, we will be deploying 800 UK troops to Tapa.

That collaboration will be of no less importance when we leave the European Union, because in the face of growing concern about the threat to security across the continent we must bolster our efforts to defend the western world.

So our servicemen and women will continue to work proudly alongside yours in the years ahead, providing vital reassurance and deterrence along NATO’s eastern border.

But our relationship runs further than our important shared interests in defence.

Estonia is one of the top travel destinations in the world and last year around 115,000 tourists visited Estonia from the UK.

In that context, I understand that the 15,000 Estonians currently living in the UK want certainty about their rights once the UK leaves the EU. And while Estonians’ existing rights are not affected the British government wants to get a deal done to secure long term rights quickly that protects the rights of all EU citizens living in the UK, and British citizens living in the EU. Indeed we would have liked to have come to such an agreement already, and have been clear it will be an absolute priority once formal negotiations begin.

It’s in no one’s interest to see any new barriers to trade. The UK is Estonia’s 4th biggest export partner in services, and trade between our two nations is worth more than €1bn a year.

The UK is important for the Estonian start-up community. Many have their headquarters in London, including the Estonian-founded money transfer firm TransferWise.

So as the Prime Minister outlined last month, Britain is seeking a new, strong partnership with the European Union. A partnership that maintains the close relationship we have with member states and builds further on them.

That partnership is one that will be to our mutual benefit. We are absolutely clear that we want the EU to succeed economically, politically and socially - and we want to remain a good friend and neighbour.

I’m confident that if we approach negotiations over the UK’s exit and new partnership with the EU in a spirit of goodwill, we can deliver a positive outcome that works for all.

Estonia and the UK will remain close partners. And my message to you, as the first UK Cabinet minister to visit Estonia since the UK voted to leave the EU, is that our important relationship will not diminish after our exit. Indeed, it will grow stronger still.

Published 21 February 2017