New UK ambassador John Marshall is already learning Luxembourgish
Photo: Mike Zenari
Interview: New British ambassador John Marshall is keen to get involved in local life, but he also has a busy agenda ahead with the UK referendum on remaining in the EU looming large on the horizon.
Britain’s 21st ambassador to Luxembourg, John Marshall, presented his credentials to Grand Duke Henri on Thursday 14 April. Alice Walpole’s successor has been in Luxembourg just a month but has wasted no time getting to know the country and become involved in local life.
He is already learning Luxembourgish, “with very good intentions” to be able to hold conversations in the language. He has some knowledge of German, which he says helps with learning vocabulary and speaks fluent French--his previous appointment was as ambassador to Senegal and, interestingly given the large Cape Verdean community in the Grand Duchy, the non-resident ambassador to Cape Verde and Guinea-Bissau. More actively, on the Sunday after presenting his credentials, the ambassador ran the 27km Le Trail des Forts course in the DKV Urban Trail.
Professionally, the most pressing issue on Marshall’s agenda is the 23 June referendum in the UK on remaining in the European Union. “There are two aspects to that. One is explaining government policy and the second is to encourage those who are eligible to register to vote, because it is an incredibly important decision for the British public to take and we want as many as possible to participate in the referendum.”
British nationals resident in Luxembourg who have lived in the UK within the past 15 years are eligible to vote abroad. They can register online to vote in the referendum before 16 May.
Strong remain feeling
Marshall says that in his short time in Luxembourg so far, he has had clear indication from expats that there is a very strong feeling that Britain should remain in the EU. “Understandably, I sense some sort of anxiety about what a vote to leave would mean. Obviously it varies from individual to individual.”
The ambassador reiterates that the British government’s position is that the UK’s best interests are served by remaining in the EU and he thinks it has done a good job in explaining the positive benefits of membership of the EU. But he also admits that there is not much the foreign office can say to reassure those expats worried by a Brexit vote. “Much of the detail is up to others to decide, or would be part of a negotiation that the UK would have to have with the other 27 members of the union.”
Though he has only officially been in the job less than a week, Marshall says that he has met plenty of Luxembourgers who have expressed a desire for the UK to remain in the EU. He explains that the UK and Luxembourg governments share many of the same objectives, such as a deepening of the single market, particularly in the area of financial services and the digital single market. “And basically assuring that the EU does what is necessary to enhance its competitiveness and to create jobs and growth. So there will be a busy agenda of EU work, if, as we hope, the UK votes to remain.”
Education and culture
Marshall’s first formal event after presenting his credentials was to host the inaugural meeting of the King’s College London alumni association. He is delighted that more and more Luxembourg students are seeking to go to UK universities--indeed, the King’s College group is the fifth alumni association in Luxembourg, alongside groups of former students of Oxford, Cambridge, Warwick and LSE.
This week also sees the official marking of the 400th anniversary of the death of William Shakespeare, on 23 April 1616. A series of events have already taken place in Luxembourg--the ambassador took his 12-year old daughter (he has two other children aged 18 and 21) to a screening at the Cinémathèque of Laurence Olivier's 1948 version of Hamlet.
“It was rather brave because it is not at all like modern films. But she told me she really enjoyed it.” Marshall was also excited to learn that a large portion of the Al Pacino starring Merchant of Venice was filmed in Luxembourg. Later this week, the ambassador will be at a performance of The Tempest supported by the British embassy at neimënster.
For a full version of this interview, make sure to grab a copy of the June print edition of Delano out on 27 May.