Travelling with the PM: the diary of an Oxford delegate

Travelling with the PM: the diary of an Oxford delegate

Wednesday, 5 August 2015


Meet up with delegation at the Jet Centre @ Stansted airport for 3pm and hand over our passports, which we won’t need until our arrival back to the UK! Delegation includes 31 companies with some famous names such as Rolls Royce, Airbus, Balfour Beatty, Lloyds of London, JCB, Aviva and lots of other big businesses.

Joining us are 7 different MPs and cabinet ministers:-

Rt Hon Sajid Javid MP, the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation & Skills;
Rt. Hon Amber Rudd MP, Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change;
Rt Hon Lord Maude of Horsham, Minister of State for Trade and investment;
Rt Hon Anna Soubry MP, Minister of State for Small Business, Industry and Enterprise;
Rt Hon Hugo Swire MP, Minister of State, Foreign & Commonwealth Office (Only in Vietnam);
Rt Hon Philip Dunne MP, Minister of State for Defence Procurement (Only in Malaysia);
Rt Hon Richard Graham MP, Prime Minister’s Trade Envoy to Indonesia;

We have around 2 hours to meet our new travelling companions for the next 5/6 days before we board our plane. A 74 seat Boeing 757 chartered from Titan Airways, which has a small area at the front for David Cameron that includes a bed, board table and chairs. The rest of us have old-fashioned business-style seating, described by some as similar to that of a dentist chair!

Behind DC’s area on the plane are his staff, security and colleagues. The business delegates are positioned behind them and then behind us are 16 political correspondents from the national TV stations and newspapers.



16.5 hours later, including a refuelling stop in Muscat, we arrive in Jakarta Indonesia at around 4pm (local time) to a full-on red carpet military-style reception and 35 degree heat. After some pomp and ceremony we jump into 2 smart mini buses, behind the PM & his team, joining a huge cavalcade with lots of military, police cars and what seem like dozens of outriders, taking us to our hotel. Jakarta at rush hour is mad and on this day made ten times worse by the fact that the traffic was stopped at every junction on our route to ensure we didn’t have to stop (or slow down it seemed) at any point.


We all assemble for a group picture at the hotel, have a quick refresh (15 mins) and then back into the minibus to head to an ASEAN Economic Community meeting, in a very grand room at the ASEAN Secretariat building. Obviously all very tired, but I only witness one person (the Airbus man) actually nod off during the meeting!

From this meeting to a very formal State Dinner with President Jokowi and all his dignitaries. Speeches from DC and Jokowi, with some traditional Indonesian dancing by three different dance troops. I sit with three of his nine presidential advisors. A very tired delegation is then whisked back off to the hotel and finally bed – well, after a couple of social drinks!



Within the hotel is a huge hoarding promoting “Business is Great (Britain & N.I.) / UK – Indonesia Business Forum”, which starts at 8am. We attend an initial welcome presentation and then head off into different meetings, mine was “Advanced Engineering”. In this meeting, we get to present our business to local Indonesian companies, which is where I meet with a huge tyre producing business that has recently built its own proving ground - like Mira in the UK.


After those meetings, we all come back into the reception room for what I can only describe as a de-brief from each of the different meetings, run by Anna Soubry MP. David Cameron presents to the room and closes the meeting at 10am, leaving us around 45 minutes to network before jumping back into our cavalcade to race back to the airport.

At 3:30pm we arrive in Singapore to another military-style reception and cavalcade, zooming us to a huge Lee Kuan Yee National University of Singapore reception for 4:30. Here we meet senior ministers from Singapore and various presentations are given, including one by David Cameron where he issues some new key policies and hosts a Q&A with the assembled audience. VERY impressive performance from the PM (again)!

Straight from here to a “Business is GREAT reception” at the British High Commission Residence in Singapore where we get to network with a few hundred people and receive more presentations, including an un-scripted one from our PM. During this reception and at many other points throughout the week, the PM would host private meetings between business leaders helping to get deals done and/or introducing our business leaders to senior politicians from the countries we travelled to.

8:45pm back to the hotel and our first night off. I meet up with Kenji from Hodaka our (importer for Singapore) and have a nice dinner with him.



This day was always going to be the very long day with two flights, an early start and a non-stop agenda.


We are bundled into our minibus at 7:30 for an early start and a drive to the Unilever Four Acres Campus (a mega facility to look after the 20,000 Unilever employees in the Australasia region) and this time we meet up with the “UK Northern Powerhouse”. The UK Northern Powerhouse was another business delegation led by the Rt Hon Sajid Javid MP, the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation & Skills and included the Interim Mayor of Manchester, the Head of Leeds Council, plus various universities from the region. They give a number of presentations where it was impressive to learn that Sunderland builds more Nissans than Italy builds cars in total and that Yorkshire created more jobs last year than France!

The presentations are rounded off by a key note speech by the PM and a senior Singapore Cabinet Minister (could have been their PM!).

At 11am we are given a presentation by Rolls Royce and then grab what is called a “Networking lunch” before we rushed off to the airport.

After a three hour flight we arrive in Hanoi, Vietnam for 4:30pm. Significantly this is the first time any UK Prime Minister has ever visited Vietnam and you could see how special it was to the Vietnamese.

After meeting various heads of state at Hanoi airport, the PM joins Rolls Royce and Vietnam Air where a £340m deal is nailed for a service and maintenance contract for the fleet of RR engines purchased/ordered earlier this year.

We break off into a couple of teams, with mine heading off to the Ministry of Transport to meet with the Minister of Transport and his whole team. Whilst this has little direct relevance to Oxford Products we get to hear about their current infrastructure plans and how the UK could get involved. There is a basic agreement that the UK can grab various projects, one for a $16bn airport construction project that seems to be agreed in principle right before my eyes!

After this meeting we all join back up and head off to the state dinner. The UK Embassy had lots of negotiations to do here as the Vietnam side only wanted politicians at the dinner initially and managed to get approval the week before to include all of the PM’s delegation. Our PM and their Prime Minister Mr Nguyen Tan Dung offer toasts and give speeches. It is my first experience of “Nem Tay Ho” which translates as “spring rolls with snail” – actually rather nice!

Once all the formalities have finished and the evening over-runs, we are rushed from the state dinner to the airport where we take a 2 hour flight from Hanoi to the more industrial area of Ho Chi Minh City arriving at our hotel sometime after midnight.



Fortunately we don’t have an early start, with our first meeting at 9:30 where just myself and another business on the trip get to meet with Saigon Industry Corporation, which is a state owned entity (as many companies are in this communist country) that has 13 joint venue smaller companies. We get the opportunity to present our business to them and then hear about their many varied businesses. This certainly wasn’t a selling opportunity for Oxford Products, but could be a very interesting company for our supply chain.


At 11:45 we head to the airport for a 1pm flight to Malaysia, arriving @ 4pm in Kuala Lumpar.

After the normal pomp and ceremony at the airport to which we have become accustomed, we depart for downtown Kuala Lumpar and then break up into a couple of smaller groups. We go to the massively impressive developers MRCB and receive a presentation on some of the projects they’ve done, are doing and will be doing. One of the developments is some 220 acres! The Chairman of Architects Benoy (part of our delegation) gives a short speech of thanks and comments about what we have seen.

Despite having a couple of outriders we make slow work of getting through the rush-hour Kuala Lumpar traffic to a huge “Britain is Great” reception, with particular attention given to the huge investment made by Malaysia to regenerate the Battersea Power Station area of London. The location just under the famous Petronas towers is amazing. Hundreds of people attend this reception, including Jimmy Choo! Our Malaysian importer is on the guest list (I checked!), but claims never to have got an invitation, which is a real shame. Ann from Rolls Royce introduces me to her KL colleague who recommends we speak to his friend who imports & distributes motorcycles to the region!

Fortunately, down to good planning, our third and final state dinner is in walking distance of this reception, where the honourable Dato’ Sri Mohd Najib Tun Abdul Razak, Prime Minister of Malaysia requests the pleasure of our company! Coincidentally I am on the same table as the Head of Lloyds of London (John Nelson) for the third state dinner in a row and of course declare that I couldn’t possibly attend any future state dinner without him! Despite being under a cloud of corruption allegations, PM Razak is in good form, although that’s probably because he’s sacked everyone that had the audacity to point the finger even vaguely in his direction! At the end of the state dinner both PM’s give a short speech and toast, then decide to mingle and shake everyone’s hand at the dinner!

At the end of this dinner we head straight to the airport in what would be our final cavalcade. Our feet didn’t touch the ground at the airport, we are straight out of the coach and onto the plane, which seems to simply rev up and take off!

The PM then wanders down the plan thanking each of us for coming on the trip, posing for pictures, etc. Once he has gone back to the front we have a couple of drinks to finish off what has been an amazing trip!



We touch down just before 8am and whilst we are getting ourselves together, the PM rushes off to chair a COBRA meeting at Downing Street about the Calais problems.