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Politics & press news – Embassy 18 – July/August 2009

Clean sweep at the FCO

The unexpected departure of Lord Malloch Brown has completed the thorough overhaul of the ministerial team at the Foreign Office.

In a statement, Lord Malloch Brown said he was resigning for “strong personal and family reasons” but insiders said the straight-talking peer had become increasingly frustrated with policy-making on the hoof.

Dismay over resignation
Lord Malloch Brown’s shock resignation was greeted with dismay among the African and Asian heads of mission, who saw the minister as an ally in government due to his extensive experience as a one-time top UN official.

The FCO has yet to announce the Africa Minister’s successor, but diplomats privately hope it will be a sitting member of parliament rather than a peer. “If the minister is also drawn from the House of Lords [like Europe Minister Baroness Kinnock] the remaining two ministers will be so overburdened leading the peers’ business in the Commons they will barely get a chance to travel to the regions they cover,” one ambassador told Embassy.

Some diplomats have complained that they have not yet been given formal notification from the Foreign Office of the new ministers. “Perhaps it’s because they know they won’t be in office long with the elections only a few months away!” quipped a diplomat to Embassy.

Controversial choice?
The new team has aroused the interest of the diplomatic corps. While the appointment of Ivan Lewis MP as the new Middle East Minister was welcomed by the pro-Israeli lobby who see him as a staunch ally, the move might raise eyebrows among the Arab diplomatic corps.

Formerly the Vice Chair of Labour Friends of Israel, Mr Lewis was a robust defender of Israel’s actions in Gaza earlier this year, when he gave a speech at a pro-Israel demonstration in Manchester in which he said: “It is essential that we send a clear and responsible message from the great city of Manchester that this community stands shoulder to shoulder with Israel.”

Lewis has ministerial experience, having worked at DfID and as a junior minister at the Department for Education and Skills (DFES).

Rainbow diplomacy
Chris Bryant was raised in Spain and speaks fluent Spanish, which will be an asset in his new job as Minister for the Americas. Prior to his political career, he was an ordained priest and is one of only a few of openly gay MPs.

The former deputy leader of the House of Commons is also a member of Amnesty International and holds the departmental brief for diversity. He has made no secret of his plans to use his ministerial position to support gay communities worldwide.

He recently wrote letters of support to the British Ambassadors to Poland, Bulgaria and Romania who supported gay communities in those countries – in the teeth of strong opposition – and he wants the issue of gay rights addressed at the upcoming Commonwealth summit.

In a letter to the British ambassador in Poland, Ric Todd, Bryant wrote: “I wanted to congratulate you on your flying of the Rainbow flag next to the Union flag last year… I know you had some flak, but frankly more power to your elbow.”

As previously reported, Glenys Kinnock was appointed Europe Minister. Baroness Kinnock is well known in European circles as an MEP and campaigner for social justice. She is also wife of the former Vice President of the European Commission and ex-Labour leader Neil Kinnock.

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New team: Ivan Lewis, Foreign Secretary David Miliband, Baroness Kinnock and Chris Bryant MP
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