With Britain having just exited the EU, Czech Foreign Minister Tomáš Petříček flew to Manchester on Friday to meet members of the local Czech community and discuss their concerns connected with Brexit. Mr Petříček started his trip by visiting a cemetery in Cheadle and Gatley, south of the city. Radio Prague’s Tom McEnchroe has been following the events on the ground and spoke to us on the phone on Friday morning:
“It’s still early in the day and we have just moved on from a special memorial act this morning, which took place at a cemetery near Manchester. A Czechoslovak Warrant Officer and Royal Air Force pilot called Antonín Škach was honoured there by the Foreign Minister as well as by the local Vice Lord-Lieutenant.
“This is actually part of a larger initiative going on this year [called Never Forgotten] during the 75th anniversary of the end of WWII, which the Czech Ambassador to the UK Libor Sečka recently started. Basically, he wants to visit and pay homage to all the graves of Czech servicemen from the Second World War.
“I spoke to the dignitaries and they all highlighted not just the sacrifice these people did, but also the enduring legacy that it has on Czech-British relations.”
What will the foreign minister be doing after this?
“Mr Petříček is primarily here to reassure and talk to Czech expats. There are some 31,500 Czechs registered as permanent residents in the UK, but unofficial estimates suggest that there are as many as 100,000 Czechs living in Britain.
“Many of them live around the big north-western cities of Manchester and Liverpool and, to improve service, the Czech consulate, where I am right now, was established just last year.
“He is also visiting the local community, which is quite large here and includes various generations of expats, for example Lady Grenfell-Baines, one of the Winton children. There are also representatives of the Czech language schools here. And then there are also scientists and students from local universities, so it’s quite a bunch.”
You said the trip was mainly taking place in Manchester. That is incidentally the city with the largest chamber of commerce in the UK. Will there also be business discussions?
“Yes, there will and it will make quite a lot of the programme. Travelling with the Foreign Minister is a business delegation which has developed what they call a ‘holographic plane model’”.
“It is a model of a plane which has an option where, if you point at it with your iPad, you can see the specific manufacturer and origin details of all the compnonents of a plane. A very interesting invention, I hear, which comes from a local company called Adastra.
“Then there are also scientists. There is quite a strong community of them here in Manchester. However, traveling with the delegation are also scientists coming from the Nuclear Faculty of the Czech Technical University in Prague. I haven’t managed to talk to them yet, so I don’t know what they are going to be discussing.
“I would also like to add that the end of the day is going to be finished with a meeting with the Lord Mayor of Manchester, Mr. Chohan, who is going to meet with the Foreign Minister. So it will be very interesting to hear what he has to say, if there will be any more news on how the local Czech community is dealing with Brexit.”