Queen to host UK-India Year of Culture launch: UK minister

Queen to host UK-India Year of Culture launch: UK minister

Queen Elizabeth II will host a spectacular UK-India Year of Culture launch at Buckingham Palace at the end of this month to strengthen the special...

Queen Elizabeth II will host a spectacular UK-India Year of Culture launch at Buckingham Palace at the end of this month to strengthen the special cultural partnership between the two countries.

UK's senior-most Indian-origin minister, Priti Patel, who will be among the key Cabinet ministers at the event, described it as a real demonstration of the strong ties between the two countries.

"It will be a spectacular event and a wonderful opportunity to do more to celebrate the India-UK relationship," Patel, Britain's Secretary of State for International Development, told PTI.

The Palace had officially announced the date of the reception as February 27 in the monarch's engagements calendar earlier this week: "Her Majesty The Queen, The Duke of Edinburgh will give a reception to mark the launch of the UK India Year of Culture 2017."

Queen Elizabeth II, 90, is the world's longest reigning sovereign and has become the first British monarch to reach a Sapphire Jubilee, with 65 years on the throne.

The reception is expected to attract hundreds of guests from across various fields in the UK and India, including a senior Cabinet minister from the Indian side.

"Throughout the year, we are going to see great works of art, great collaborations, all the cultural aspects coming together and a real demonstration of how strong our cultural ties are. It is going to be really exciting," Patel said.

The Conservative party MP, who has completed six months in office as minister in the Department for International Development (DfID), described her last few months in the post as a "humbling and rewarding" experience. She has been on several visits to war-torn regions and has just returned from Lebanon and Jordan, countries at the heart of the Syrian refugee crisis.

"It's been pretty humbling, my first six months; particularly where I have been and the state of the world in general. My focus has been on many of the humanitarian crises that have concentrated all our minds, in particular Syria," she said.

"The UK has been at the forefront of dealing with the crisis. We have committed 2.3 billion pounds since the start of this conflict. It is our biggest ever response to humanitarian crisis and makes us the second-largest bilateral humanitarian donor. We have helped to get over 250,000 Syrian children into schools and get them educated."

Asked about some of the negative rhetoric around refugees coming out of countries like the US under President Donald Trump, she said: "The US are a huge supporter to the refugee crisis, we should not lose sight of that. They are the number one contributor in the region."

"We have to make sure that we work together with the international community, whether it is UN agencies or other country donors. It is about how we work together to provide the right support on the ground."

"I think the British public should be incredibly proud of the fact that their generosity is saving lives and changing lives in difficult parts of the world, from north-east Nigeria, Ethiopia, Somalia to South Sudan."

When she was appointed as the DfID minister by British Prime Minister Theresa May's in July 2016 just weeks after the Brexit referendum, Patel had declared her goal as ensuring that British aid delivers the country's global vision outside the European Union (EU).

She sees her job as making sure the international aid system "does what it says on the tin" and delivers for the world's poorest.

She explains: "The British public should be proud and feel confident in the way in which their development system and aid is spent. I am not afraid to stop things that I think don't work in our national interest or may not fit with our strategic priorities in Britain post-Brexit."

"I want to demonstrate that our aid is working in our national interest and global interest, certainly in terms of supporting our place in the world."

This new vision includes a changed aid relationship with India, where the UK focuses on project-based support after its traditional bilateral aid system came to a close in 2015.

"We don't give traditional aid to India but India is still home to 290 million of the world's poorest people. So there is more that we can do with regard to supporting poverty reduction, jobs and livelihood and economic development in India," she said.

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