Lisa Bandari: “A huge honour to be ambassador to our oldest ally”

 In Bi-lateral trade, Diplomacy, News, Personality

Climate, energy, defence, innovation, science and technology, and economic growth will all top the agenda for the UK’s new ambassador to Portugal.

Text: Chris Graeme Photos: Supplied

Lisa Bandari has certainly had a varied and fascinating career path before arriving in Lisbon where she is now busy continuing to learn Portuguese.

Between 2021 and 2022 she was Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office Deputy Director for India and His Majesty’s Government India Coordinator working on the UK’s relationship with that country.

Lisa herself comes from an Indian background. Her father was from Mumbai, which as a city was at the heart of the historic Portugal-UK relationship. (Charles II (r. 1660–85) married Portuguese princess Catherine of Braganza in 1662 and part of her large dowry was the Portuguese territory of ‘Bom Bahia’ (Bombay) on the western coast of India. (modern Mumbai). The king agreed to transfer control of Bombay to the East India Company, and it became their base)

The ambassador, who is married to a career diplomat and has two young children, and a black Labrador who loves romping around the spacious gardens at the British ambassador’s residence, also worked in Afghanistan as Head of the Internal Political Section in Kabul. (2008 to 2011)

“I loved working in Afghanistan, and have always enjoyed jobs where I found real purpose and felt I was making a difference, and that was definitely the case in Kabul”, she reflects, adding that they saw “real results” at that time on supporting democracy with many talented women leaders in positions of administration.

“Obviously that situation has changed in Afghanistan, but many of these women leaders are working around the world towards a brighter future in that country,” she says.

Part of that post meant learning Farsi, but Lisa is a born linguist and studied languages at university, including French and German, and she lived as a student in both counties for a while before joining the diplomatic service as a Senior Executive Officer interacting with businesses and governments at a very senior level.

“I’ve worked in many parts of the world focusing on building and strengthening relationships with other countries, which I will be bringing to this post in Portugal with my return to Europe” she explains, adding that she likes learning languages because it “helps me connect with people and enables me to better understand the culture of the country I am in”.

Lisa Bandari was also part of the Department for Exiting the EU as Deputy Director for Ongoing EU Business and Third Country Preparation from 2017 to 2020, as well as serving in Nairobi, Kenya as Director of Corporate Services (2014-2016), and even did a spell at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office as the Bosnia & Herzegovina Desk Officer early on in her career.

Top priorities

For her four-year term as HMA to Portugal, Lisa says it is a “huge honour” to be the ambassador to “our oldest ally.” “I am very lucky to work in a country that has had an alliance for 650 years, and four years is a short time compared to that sweep of history, but I am keen to use that time to value the ancient alliance and make progress on the modern dynamic partnership that we have.”

Lisa Bandari points to the signing of a joint declaration in 2022 which set out a wide range of bi-lateral priorities across different sectors that both countries want to achieve together, and are working towards. “For me personally, my priorities include working on climate and energy, defence, and our steadfast support of Ukraine ‘for as long as it takes,’ as well as deepening our science and technology collaboration, supporting innovation, investment, and economic growth in Portugal.”

“The British diaspora often have a significant role to play in economic progress. However, one priority that is omnipresent for any UK ambassador is supporting UK citizens in Portugal, both residents and visitors, making people know that we are there for them, both in good times and in moments of difficulty when they need us,” she stresses.

Of course, much of the British community and small business network in Portugal is concentrated in the Algarve, and Lisa visited the consulate in Portimão in her first two weeks in the job. “At that time, I had not presented my diplomatic credentials to the Portuguese president, Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa, so I was unable to engage in public events, but I will be returning to the Algarve as soon as I can to meet local British communities.”

Brexit and doing business in the UK

Lisa Bandari admits that the UK’s exit from the European Union has presented a “huge change” for both UK and Portuguese companies doing business in each other’s countries, but not insurmountable within the context of a trading relationship that has been going for over seven centuries.

“Trade has always been a particularly important part of the UK-Portugal relationship, and we still hear that from Portuguese businesses that say they have these strong ties to the UK and want to trade. We are now focusing on supporting UK businesses in Portugal and Portuguese firms that want to invest in the UK,” stresses the ambassador.

The UK embassy has a strong team in Lisbon’s Department of Business and Trade Portugal that works with companies, and identifies and addresses market access barriers to maximise market opportunities for UK firms in Portugal and Portuguese firms wanting to invest in the UK in a bi-lateral market worth €3.3Bn last year.

“We are supporting UK companies in navigating EU/UK trading rules with targeted campaigns in priority sectors like energy and climate, technology and innovation.”

And adds: “It’s true that a report into business confidence between the two countries since Brexit has shown barriers, but overall, most companies reported optimism about the future trading relationship, and I think the future is bright.”

A driving agreement

The UK and Portuguese governments signed an agreement which came into force on January 1, 2024, meaning that UK driving licence holders will be able to continue driving in Portugal on their existing full and valid licence until expiry. However they should register their licence with the Portuguese vehicle licencing authority, Instituto da Mobilidade e dos Transportes (IMT).

Also, UK citizens will be able to exchange their UK licences for a Portuguese one without needing to take a driving test in Portugal. UK licence holders cannot renew or replace their UK driving licences if they are resident in Portugal. They must instead exchange licences for a Portuguese one. Moreover, they cannot use an International Driving Permit (IDP) instead of exchanging their licences.

As for voting rights, Lisa Bandari explains that the new UK Elections Act, which came into force in January 2024, means that British nationals living overseas, even if they have been away for more than 15 years, can now vote in UK parliamentary elections and by-elections. “You can register to vote and do that online with all information available in the UK government’s ‘Living in Portugal Guide updated on January 25, 2024”.