‘Brazil is a roller coaster of surprises’

Brasil Observer - Feb 13 2017
Embaixador britânico no Brasil, Alex Ellis, prestigia o show da banda All You Need is Love no terraço da loja GREAT na Rock Street. Foto: André Mourão.
Alex Ellis during the Rock in Rio Festival (Photo: André Mourão)

(Leia em Português)


Former Ambassador Alex Ellis talks about his experience on Brazilian soil and what he expects for Brexit negotiations


By Guilherme Reis

Alex Ellis served as British ambassador to Brazil for three and a half years. It was, at least, a restless period, with the World Cup, Olympic Games, an impeached president, among other more or less glorious facts.

Invited to be part of the team that will be negotiating Brexit, Alex Ellis left the Brazilian post last month – to be filled by Dr. Vijay Rangarajan, former director for Europe in the United Kingdom Foreign Ministry.

In this interview with the Brasil Observer, the former ambassador tells his impressions about Brazil and what he expects for Brexit negotiations.


You served in Brazil during a very chaotic period. World Cup, Olympics, demonstrations, impeachment, political and economic crisis… What is your evaluation now you are leaving office?

I see a lot of changes, many changes in power, but also change of attitude in relation to impunity. I arrived during the trial phase of the so-called ‘Mensalão’ (corruption scandal) and since then the attack on traditional practices in Brazil has been strong, which has been very positive. Another thing I have seen is the resilience of Brazilian institutions and also of the Brazilian people. Institutions in general and courts have worked the way they should. And at the same time the people can adapt (with difficulties, of course) to a huge recession.


Did Brazil live up to the expectations you had before taking office?

Brazil sells a stereotyped image of beach, football, samba and carnival. Like any stereotype, there are true elements. But what I discovered was creativity. Brazil is perhaps the most creative country where I have lived. Not only the elite, but everyone. Creativity can be a bad or good thing depending on the context, but in art, culture, dance and music it is absolutely fantastic. It is a deep richness. Brazil can show even more.

Another point is the complexity of the country. Brazil is a complex country. People accept and even like this complexity. And human warmth, which is a cliché, but it is important. When I arrived, the first few weeks I went to the supermarket to buy some things and had a list that I did not know right, so a gentleman helped me find what I needed. That is one of the things that will stay in my memory.


We are still experiencing a period of great political and economic turbulence. In your opinion, is post-impeachment Brazil closer or farther away from solving its problems?

Brazil is going through a huge recession. Without resolving the budget deficit it is very difficult to resolve other economic issues. We had a similar situation in the UK in 2010 that required a strong spending reduction policy, so I find that inevitable and necessary to move forward. The issue of Lava Jato (corruption investigation) has great popular support and needs more time. I think Brazil is making great strides in this area. The problem is that if you look from year to year you have the feeling that it does not advance. But look 20 years ago, in the early 1990s, and you will see that the country is totally transformed.


What is your expectation for Brazil in 2017? Are you going to continue suggesting that British companies invest in Brazil?

I learned that in Brazil you cannot anticipate anything; it’s a roller coaster of surprises. We already have huge investments from British companies in Brazil: Shell, Unilever, BP, Land Rover… We are the fourth largest investor in Brazil. So yeah, I say you should keep investing. Some investors have stopped because of political uncertainties, capital in general does not like uncertainties, but I think Brazil is not only a potential country, but it has a great consumer market, natural wealth and many opportunities. I see very great opportunities in the area of ​​basic public services, education, health…


You will now have an important role in the Brexit negotiations. What can you say about the strategy the UK will adopt?

The vote was clear and decisive for our departure from the European Union. Participation was high by our standards (72%), so we have to move forward. We have the reality today, we are members of the European Union, and we have a very strong desire on the part of the government to maintain a close relationship with the EU member states. How to get from here to there is the big question. It requires negotiation. We have to try to solve as many problems as possible. Is it possible to do everything in two years? It is not impossible, but it is difficult. Will we need more time? Do we have to create a transitional regime? These are big questions. Everything will become clearer throughout the negotiations. It will not be easy.


There are many uncertainties about the future of the UK on behalf of Brexit, especially for immigrants. What kind of guarantee can European citizens who already live in the UK have?

For now nothing changes. Brazilians with a European passport in the United Kingdom have their rights held until the day we leave the European Union. The later we will determine. We have been an open country; we do not require a visa for Brazilian tourists, for example.


Will Europeans need a visa to enter the UK?

It depends on what the person will want to do, tourism or work. Of course, the rights of European citizens in the United Kingdom will change when we leave the European Union. Let us assess what rights and opportunities we can offer to EU citizens and outsiders.


How can Brazil take advantage of this Brexit situation?

I see our departure from the European Union as a great opportunity to strengthen the relationship with Brazil. And I think Brazil also sees Brexit as a great opportunity. Brazil is rapidly internationalizing itself and the United Kingdom, which is already an international country, will adapt to a new reality, approaching even more countries like Brazil. We have already done a lot and I think the next decade will be even closer.

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