Sunak and Ramaphosa agree need for ‘next level’ UK-South Africa links

The South African president was in Downing Street as part of his state visit to the UK, the first by a foreign dignitary in the reign of the King.

South African President State Visit to the UK
South African President State Visit to the UK

Rishi Sunak has discussed opportunities to boost trade exports with the South African president as the pair agreed this generation must take their nations’ partnership “to the next level”.

Cyril Ramaphosa met the Prime Minister in Downing Street as part of his state visit to the UK, the first by a foreign dignitary in the reign of the King.

The leaders hailed the “historic” ties between their nations while looking towards a deeper partnership “both bilaterally and through the Commonwealth” during their talks on Wednesday, No 10 said.

They also attended a working lunch alongside Cabinet ministers Grant Shapps, Kemi Badenoch and Steve Barclay.

Mr Sunak said it was a “historic state visit” and “South Africa and the UK are obviously very strong partners, allies, friends and we share so many of the same objectives – notably transitioning to clean energy while creating jobs and opportunity for our citizens”.

Meanwhile, Mr Ramaphosa said he wanted to “deepen and broaden” links with the UK.

“For us this is a great opportunity to deepen and broaden our links, links that are historic in many, many ways,” the president said.

The state visit was marked by the UK and South Africa signing an agreement to strengthen their health partnership to help prevent future pandemics.

As part of the agreement, British and South African institutions will collaborate on nine research projects on issues including health systems, mental health, surgery and HIV, according to the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO).

The two countries are also working together to tackle climate change, with the UK contributing funding to the Just Energy Transition Partnership with South Africa to help the country decarbonise its economy.

South African President State Visit to the UK
Rishi Sunak welcomes Cyril Ramaphosa to Downing Street (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

The announcement came as the president visited the Francis Crick Institute biomedical research facility in London with the Earl of Wessex. The two men also toured Kew Gardens.

At Kew, the president and Edward saw plants on display in the Temperate House, home to more than 10,000 rare and endangered plants from around the world, including South Africa.

Mr Ramaphosa was presented with seeds from Leucospermum conocarpodendron – the South African flower known as the tree pincushion – which has been decreasing in numbers on the Western Cape.

Mr Ramaphosa with the Earl of Wessex during a visit to the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew
Mr Ramaphosa with the Earl of Wessex during a visit to the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew (Kirsty Wigglesworth/PA)

The gift marks a plan to open a South African National Seed Bank for Wild Species next year, beginning a transfer of duplicate seeds held at The Millennium Seed Bank.

The two-day state visit saw Mr Ramaphosa visit Buckingham Palace for a lavish banquet in his honour hosted by the King on Tuesday night.

A Cabinet minister has defended the event laid on at a time of hardship for millions of Britons.

Buckingham Palace guests dined on grilled brill – a delicate flatfish – followed by pheasant from the Windsor estate and, for dessert, iced vanilla parfait with caramelised apples, all washed down with fine wines.

Mr Ramaphosa with the King at Buckingham Palace
Mr Ramaphosa made a final call on the King at Buckingham Palace on Wednesday (Henry Nicholls/PA)

Work and Pensions Secretary Mel Stride said the visit would help boost trade, and growing the economy was the prize that mattered – “whether it’s pheasant on the plate or pie and mash”.

He told LBC: “Right at the heart, actually, of our soft power, as it’s often called, is this ability to project our sense of history and pageant.”

Asked about the timing, with people struggling with the cost of living, Mr Stride said: “I would see it in terms of engaging with our most important trading partner on the continent of Africa, with whom we have very important ties of history and trade and economics.

“What really we want to come out of this is a stronger and healthier UK economy, and that benefits everybody.”

No 10 said Mr Sunak and Mr Ramaphosa used their meeting in Downing Street to discuss trade, with talks on “bolstering cooperation on green hydrogen and sustainable infrastructure” and “opportunities to increase exports and access for services”.

“The leaders hailed the deep and historic ties between the UK and South Africa and agreed that this generation must take the partnership between our nations to the next level, both bilaterally and through the Commonwealth,” a spokeswoman said.

The South African president also met Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer at the Corinthia Hotel in London.

The state visit came to an end with Mr Ramaphosa making a final call on the King at Buckingham Palace and, after a meeting which lasted around 10 minutes, Charles waved the statesman off from the royal residence’s grand entrance.

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