CBCC interview with…His Excellency Nick Archer, British Ambassador to the Czech Republic

His Excellency Nick Archer, British Ambassador to the Czech Republic since 2018 and now CBCC Patron, shares why he joined diplomatic service, his views on the business relations between the UK and the Czech Republic after Brexit, how we individually can contribute to tackling climate change, and so much more…

Could you please share some information about your background?

I’ve been a diplomat almost all my working life, but not all. Before joining the diplomatic service, I worked in business at the art auctioneers Sotheby’s. I spent 3.5 years as Assistant Private Secretary to the Prince of Wales.  Later I joined the executive team of UK Trade and Investment, where I remained 4.5 years before it became part of the Department for International Trade in 2016.

What brought you to diplomacy?

In those days it was more like falling into things, slightly by accident, actually. However, for me it was always an obvious choice to make; I had an interest in the wider world, foreign languages and foreign cultures. And in those days, many of my most able contemporaries became either journalists or ended up in this type of role where actually the similarity to journalism is quite strong. In essence, it’s about picking up new subjects, getting briefed up on them, and then to some degree putting those down and picking up new ones; it is this diversity that has kept me in this role, for almost 40 years now.

What’s the best thing about your job?

There are very few jobs which bring you into contact with so many different people, countries, challenges.  Simply everything. Of course, if you are a person who likes to focus on one subject and become a great expert, this job would be terrible. But if you enjoy dealing with a big range of topics and to see as much as possible, it offers unparalleled opportunities.

During COP26, you’ve often publicly engaged in conversations about the environment and climate change.

I went through COP15 in Copenhagen when I was an ambassador to Denmark. This was a topic I knew nothing about then, but I became a sort-of expert. For about 1.5 years we put a huge effort into trying to get a good result. And of course, in the process, one learned a huge amount about how COPs work, as well as about the threats which man-made climate change presents to our world. These are existential threats, so it was natural for me to want to pick this up at the time of the British presidency of COP26. Despite both negative and positive views on what was achieved, I think that the UN and Britain, which together ran the event, achieved a lot – indeed all they possibly could, given the fact that there are still big nations around the world that either do not understand this topic or choose not to. You cannot force countries to do things, you have to help them understand them and want to do them. To see the benefits. 

In the Czech Republic you are involved in the Planeta v nouzi project. What is this project trying to do?

In the Czech Republic I think it’s about changing the nature of the discussion, from one which in recent years has always been about the threat that climate action represents to one which is more about the threat that global warming represents. The idea that action to tackle global warming is a threat to people’s prosperity and life is utterly nonsensical; there is no doubt that hurricanes and floods, summer temperatures rising to 40C can destroy our life. To insulate our houses better, drive cars with a different engine, recycling, these are not difficult things to do. Cutting your energy bills is a good thing for a household to do and beneficial in terms of a cleaner environment. These individual contributions are critical. The Czech Republic experienced environmental degradation in the 70s and 80s; this was one of the causes of the Velvet Revolution. I believe it now needs to continue the clean-up begun at the end of the communist era. Taking it to a much more sophisticated level and, yes, generating prosperity from it.

Why have you become a CBCC Patron?

I think it can help if myself and Maria Chatardova, now Czech Ambassador to the UK, identify ourselves with the CBCC and similar organisations and support them. I recently attended an event organised by the British Chamber of Commerce in Prague and came away with a strong sense that this is a vibrant, dynamic chamber that makes a difference. As I get to know the CBCC, I am sure I will find the same here.

How’s your Czech?

My Czech is not good as it should be or as I’d like it to be. But it’s good enough to buy a loaf of bread and to be able to use automatic translation services, identify errors and correct them. However, I can’t write a word in Czech without forgetting one of the diacritics.

How would you define yourself in 3 words?

I’d say that I want to always be clear; I attach huge importance to clarity as a leader.

I am also often frustrated – I think it’s important not to be content with the way things are, and to want to make them better. Maybe there is a more positive adjective, but frustration to a degree can create change.

And I am interested – this goes back to what I said about a career in a diplomatic service. Dr Johnson said: “when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life”. You can apply this quote more broadly: the day you stop being interested maybe is the day you are tired of life – certainly of diplomatic life.

So clear, frustrated but, or and, interested in my world.

What do you do in your free time?

In all honesty the job of being an Ambassador is one where free time and working time are perhaps least clearly distinguishable. Because if one is always taking an interest, then every Czech I meet, very often in my free time, will help me understand the country better.  And that in the end is the most important thing an ambassador must do – interpret a country back to a government he or she represents. Conversely of course there are lots of things that being the ambassador obliges you to do which you’d like to do anyway – they don’t feel like work. For example, yesterday as an ambassador I had to lay a wreath to commemorate Remembrance Sunday, but I was delighted to be able to; that was something I’d personally want to do; as an ambassador you can be a leading figure at such a ceremony and it’s a good place to be.

Can you share your view on the business relationships between and UK and the Czech Republic?

The business relationships between the two countries had to change a bit because of Brexit. What is important to understand is that the Czech Republic does great business with Japan, the US, Korea, and many other western developed economies that are not in the EU. What I’ve seen over the last few months is that companies have been getting used to the new way of doing business, working it out and getting along with it. Whatever governments say, people just want to buy good products; I think we sometimes overlook that due to all the changes in the trading environment. People in Britain still want to buy Skoda cars, Pilsner Urquell and other Czech goods. The beginning of this year was a time of uncertainty and difficulty for companies, and I want to acknowledge that – some had to deal with bureaucratic complexities and other challenges. But as 2021 draws to a close, the companies I meet have come through this remarkably well. That is because people want to buy their stuff. Take another example: M&S in the Czech Republic had to alter its product range, but it didn’t give up and go home. So, I say to these companies well done for surviving this undeniably traumatic transition, and please carry on selling good quality products as people are very keen to buy. I’d compare this period of transition to any life change, like going to a new school, getting a new job or whatever. They do complicate our lives but we get to a new normal. It seems that the companies doing business between the UK and the Czech Republic have done pretty well in dealing with the change ion exactly that way.

By Tereza Urbankova, member of the CBCC Executive Committee

We are looking for more CBCC members to be interviewed! Please email tereza@cbcc.org.uk if you are interested.

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