Rishi Sunak surprised diplomats, military personnel, charity workers and other public servants working across the world this Christmas by calling them to personally thank them for their sacrifice and dedication in an “extraordinary” year.
Downing Street said the British Indian leader’s calls on Friday to diplomats included one to Pakistan to Sherwan Asif, who has worked for the British High Commission in Islamabad for more than 12 years.
He was at the forefront of the UK’s response to the devastating floods that ravaged the country in June and Sherwan identified areas in critical need and ensured UK’s funding reached the most vulnerable, Downing Street said.
“Whether you are working in Mogadishu or Milton Keynes this Christmas, I want you to know that I am personally grateful for your sacrifice,” said Sunak.
“This year has been an extraordinary year for so many reasons, but most of all, it’s been a year in which the true spirit and resilience of the United Kingdom has been on the show, from the support given to our Ukrainian friends, to the work being done to ensure essential aid reaches the most vulnerable overseas,” he said.
“And closer to home, those who have checked on friends and neighbours, volunteers, public servants and essential service staff all working over Christmas – I am truly humbled by your dedication and I know your selflessness this festive season will spread cheer across the country,” he added.
Alongside Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) Permanent Under-Secretary Sir Philip Barton and First Sea Lord Admiral Ben Key, Sunak made the calls to diplomats in Somalia and Ukraine, as well as a Royal Navy ship sailing in Antarctica.
In the UK, Sunak surprised Chris Mitchell who runs Smart Play, an award-winning government-funded Holiday Activities and Food programme in London.
Sunak heard first-hand how Mitchell and his team are supporting vulnerable children across the area with fun activities and nutritious meals throughout the school holidays.
Speaking to diplomat Nic Guffog, who is based in Mogadishu, Somalia, the UK prime minister heard how the foreign office staffer had been using her breather breaks and flights from the UK back to Somalia to bring in Christmas decorations for the UK’s diplomatic compound in Mogadishu.
She told Sunak how staff in Mogadishu were living in containers under the threat of terror attacks, and would spend Christmas supporting efforts to counter the threat posed by Al-Shabaab and helping the Somalian government deal with the hunger crisis facing the country.
Guffog, who looks after the embassy compound in East Africa, said the order for Christmas dinner had to be placed in the spring, and had recently arrived by container ship.
This year’s celebrations were particularly special for the embassy after a COVID outbreak last year meant staff couldn’t sit together in the compound on Christmas Day.
Also on the call list was Svita Yavorska, who has spent the year working for the UK’s embassy in Ukraine from Kyiv, Warsaw and now Lviv.
Svita told the prime minister how she had to flee to Poland following the war in Ukraine, before setting up the embassy’s temporary base in Poland.
Finally, Sunak spoke to some of the crew of HMS Protector, which is currently deployed off the coast of the South Sandwich Islands, updating navigational charts using the latest sonar technology, monitoring the retreat of glaciers and ice shelves, and supporting the British Antarctic Survey scientists by delivering vital supplies and fixing any engineering issues.
Sunak heard how the shipmates are experiencing 20 hours of sunlight a day and had seen whales, penguins and endangered turtles during their deployment, as well as surveying underwater volcanos, and losing 7-1 to members of the Monserrat national football team during a friendly game on shore.
Asking about their Christmas plans, the sailors told him they had planned a number of celebrations between keeping watch on the ship, including a fancy dress party and Christmas dinner for the ship’s company.