Speech by His Majesty the King on the occasion of his visit to the House of Commons and the House of Lords, Palace of Westminster, 23 October 2018

Enlarge image
Image: ©Albert Nieboer
King Willem-Alexander delivers an address to the Houses of Parliament.

Right Honourable Members of Parliament, My Lords,

It’s a privilege to address you here, at the heart of British democracy. You represent the British people in all their diversity. It is here that the interests and concerns, but also the hopes and expectations of millions of British people come together. I can think of no better place to express the affection that the Dutch feel for the United Kingdom.

You are our North Sea neighbour, but you are also much more than that. You are our ally and partner. You are our friend. And in many ways, you are a source of inspiration to us.

We Dutch will never forget the courage and self-sacrifice of the British armed forces who fought in two World Wars for freedom in Europe. Back then, the United Kingdom stood firm in the face of violence and terror. That image is engraved in our collective memory.

The same leitmotif runs through the history of both our countries: the will to fight for freedom of conscience and for a society built on tolerance and a spirit of enterprise. An open-minded society.

In this respect, the British have often been an example to us. And the reverse is also true… for some Britons, the Dutch Republic was a haven where they could develop their ideas in freedom. The great English thinker John Locke wrote his famous ‘Letter Concerning Toleration’ in Amsterdam.

As free nations on the North Sea we encountered each other regularly over the centuries, and our contacts were not always peaceful. We were allies, but also rivals. The English and the Dutch fought no fewer than four maritime wars.

Last year, our countries jointly commemorated the Raid on the Medway, 350 years earlier. It was impressive to see two countries that had once fired cannons at each other coming together to remember the past. And to note that history always offers new opportunities!

The Raid led to a reform of the English fleet, followed by two centuries of Britannia ruling the waves. So it wasn’t a bad outcome for the English in the end!

Tomorrow my wife and I will see the UK/NL Amphibious Force in action on the Thames. The display ties in with the 45th anniversary of the Force, in which the Royal Marines and the Dutch Marine Corps work side by side. Indeed, the days of the Raid on the Medway are way behind us.

It was a member of the House of Orange who had the dubious honour of leading the last successful invasion of your country. I am of course talking about the Glorious Revolution of 1688, in which the Dutch stadtholder William III, Prince of Orange, played a central role.

The same leitmotif runs through the history of both our countries: the will to fight for freedom of conscience and for a society built on tolerance and a spirit of enterprise. An open-minded society.

The rule of Mary and William went hand in hand with a reaffirmation of the rights of Parliament. Free elections, freedom of speech and protection from arbitrary power were enshrined in the Bill of Rights.

This laid the foundations for the strong constitutional monarchy of which the United Kingdom is justly proud. You are all heirs of these values that were laid down almost 330 years ago.

Ladies and gentlemen, although the wish to be truly free was the compass that guided our forebears, they knew too, that good relations and cooperation were necessary to acquire and preserve that freedom. Not only in their own countries, but also with like-minded partners beyond their borders.

Today, this is more evident than ever. Our interests are so closely entwined that we rely on other countries for our prosperity and well-being.

I need only mention a few topics that you often discuss here in the Palace of Westminster: security, upholding the international legal order, sustainable economic growth, climate change and health. These are matters that concern us just as much in the Netherlands. They are matters on which we and the UK nearly always see eye to eye.

Forty-five years ago, the excellent relationship between our countries gained an extra dimension when the United Kingdom joined the European Economic Community. Banding together within the EU has brought many benefits. Yes, the Union has its flaws, but we should not close our eyes to its achievements. Unlike former generations, most people in Britain and the Netherlands today grew up in a peaceful Europe where prosperity and freedom steadily gained ground.

The United Kingdom has decided to leave the European Union.

It truly saddens us to see a close partner leave. But of course, we fully respect your country’s choice.

Foreseeing the consequences of Brexit is a highly complex task, as is finding a solution in the time available that’s acceptable to everyone and in line with the relevant treaties.

All the parties involved are working hard to bring this to a good conclusion. We see how much this issue is on people’s minds.

But underneath all this, there is an unwavering truth.

Our ties will never be broken. However high the waves may rise, the United Kingdom will remain an important partner. For the European Union. And for us as your North Sea neighbour.

So Brexit does not mean farewell. Our close, historic relationship will continue, albeit on a different footing.

Let us always keep in mind how much we have to thank each other for. Our countries are among each other’s main trade and investment partners. Every year, teams of British and Dutch academics produce many thousands of research papers. Together, designers and artists from both countries create wonderful things. This is all worth a great deal.

One group deserves special attention: the 50,000 British nationals who live in the Netherlands, and the 150,000 Dutch nationals who live in the UK.

Many of them have lived and worked there for many years. They feel at home in their local community and their contribution to society is valued, whether as employees, colleagues, neighbours or volunteers. Every day they prove how good the match is between the British and the Dutch.

Yet all these individuals now live under the shadow of uncertainty about their future status. I understand how difficult this is for them and I trust that this uncertainty will be resolved.

People need something to hold on to, and that need is only amplified in this time of international upheaval and unpredictability. Polarisation in the world is getting worse – people here in the UK are seeing that too. It sometimes feels like the extreme has become the new normal.

To retain a degree of control in an uncertain world, it’s crucial to work together with like-minded partners in Europe and elsewhere. The Kingdom of the Netherlands strongly believes this. We consider the UK’s active contribution as essential.

For a thousand years now, thinkers, scientists, inventors, entrepreneurs, designers, artists and politicians from these Isles have been making their mark on our world. Their legacy has enriched our lives, and we are grateful to them.

The United Kingdom in turn has profited from the input of countries on the other side of the North Sea and further afield. In fact, that outward-looking attitude is precisely what has made you the strong, proud nation that you are. It has brought freedom based on exchange and partnership.

The Kingdom of the Netherlands will continue seeking to work together with you in every possible way, as a neighbour, as a partner and as a friend.

I’d like to conclude by quoting John Locke, who lived and worked in Holland for five years.

When he returned home in 1689 in the wake of the Prince of Orange, he wrote to a friend in Amsterdam about his stay in the Low Countries:

“I have found here another fatherland, and I had almost said: other kinsmen.

I call myself happy that my sojourn of these years among you has been put to such good and profitable use.”

These are words that reflect my own experience. In my youth I spent two years in the UK, as a student at the United World College of the Atlantic in South Wales. The memory of that time – and of all my friends from those days – is very dear to me. This personal experience created a bond for life with this wonderful country.

I very much hope that, in the spirit of kinship and friendship, we continue to seek each other out – and find one another!

Thank you.