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British consulate-general for Colorado says relationship is strong

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The British consulate-general for Colorado is reaffirming the United Kingdom’s commitment to the state at a precarious time for foreign relations under a new Trump administration.

An uncertain policy bedrock around immigration and refugee travel not only affects America, but the entire world. Britain, with its own issues around immigration, could be directly tied to any decisions made by America.

But British Consulate-General Stephen Bridges, who is spending four days in Denver, said the tie between the United States and the United Kingdom is so strong, that it could weather any change in policy or coming storm.

“There have been times over the last 10 years where we have not seen eye to eye on some political issues. That’s the strength of our relationship,” Bridges said, speaking with an upbeat British accent inside a Denver Civic Center building.

The British consulate-general, who is based in Chicago, said the United Kingdom is optimistic that Trump will put Britain at the “front of the queue” for a free trade agreement.

Observers have drawn parallels between Trump’s rise to power and the UK’s decision last year to leave the European Union. The movement became known as “Brexit.”

Bridges said it is “simplistic” to draw a direct correlation, though there are some fair comparisons.

“The common strand of the Brexit referendum was about taking back control. It was about national decision making, it was about us being responsible for decisions that affect the UK,” he said, pointing to the economy, immigration and free trade.

“If you draw parallels about making sure that the national interest is front and square on policy going forward, then I would say, yes, there are definitely parallels.”

The consulate-general scheduled a trip to Colorado after the office left Denver in November 2015. Mayor Michael Hancock and Gov. John Hickenlooper were looking for some assurances that the UK remains committed to the Centennial State.

“We’re real about this and we’re not going anywhere,” Bridges said. “This place really matters to us.”

It is important to the UK that the people who represent it in the United States are embedded in American culture. Bridges has been coming to Colorado since the 1980s, when he was stationed in Angola. An oil company at the time that had investments in Angola had a large office in Denver. Bridges would take his holiday in the Mile High City.

“I fell in love with Denver,” he said, underscoring that he became a Broncos fan and watched the Nuggets when they competed at McNichols Sports Arena.

Bridges’ region covers 14 states. He has been at the post for more than three years. Bridges said it has been remarkable to watch the city grow since his early trips in the 1980s.

When it came time to decide where to host the consul’s trip this year, there was unanimous consensus that Denver would be the perfect city.

“I don’t think we would have considered putting the amount of resources and commitment and time and money and focus as we do now 15, 20, years ago,” Bridges said.

Hickenlooper in December announced that global oil and gas giant BP will move its onshore business headquarters to Denver, a move that is expected to bring at least 200 jobs to Colorado.

“This move reflects Colorado’s emergence as a national energy center and we look forward to continuing to grow this partnership,” the governor said at the time.

UK leaders only hope to see continued growth in Colorado, which is why the consulate-general for the state decided to setup camp in Denver for nearly a week. The McNichols Civic Center Building in Denver was transformed into Great Britain House Denver.

Outside, a UK-made MINI Cooper was parked in front of a Union Jack flag. Inside the building, a fancy UK sports car sat on display, as Bridges joked, “We haven’t quite moved past the ’60s … I keep waiting for Austin Powers to pop out.”

Since 2009, Colorado exports to the UK have increased 56 percent to $221 million, and Colorado services exports to the UK have risen 33 percent to $1.3 billion. The UK is the state’s largest foreign direct investor, having created more than 15,000 jobs.

“Look no further than Colorado to see the U.S.-UK special relationship at its best,” said  Erin Kuhn, UK consul based in Denver. “The Great Britain House is an opportunity for us to celebrate and strengthen these important relationships.”

The week in Colorado included entertainment and business events around Denver, as well as a UK Day at the Colorado Capitol on Thursday.

While the focus of the trip is on economic development, Bridges said there are international security issues to discuss as well.

“The bottom line is it’s not going to be if, it’s going to be when, for the next hit on us,” Bridges said of terrorism. “It’s going to happen … The main thing is that we work together to keep our communities safe.”

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