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Politics & press news – Embassy 1 – October 2007

FCO gags retired diplomats

Former British diplomats are up in arms over new FCO employment contracts, effectively banning any unauthorised expression of opinion after retirement.

A letter from the Foreign Office director of human resources, circulated to ambassadors and senior staff, now states: "...your obligations of confidentiality continue after you have left the service." The letter draws particular attention to "the use of official information or experience in publications, contracts with the media, lectures, speeches and conferences."

This lifetime gag has provoked a storm of protest from retired British diplomats.

"It is in the national interest that the former diplomats should be able to take part in the national debate on foreign policy," said one retired ambassador, adding that the new rule may even be in breech of the European Conventin on Human Rights.

It is understood that the move by the FCO is in response to embarrassing revelations in the memoirs of former UK Ambassador to the US Sir Christopher Meyer, but ex diplomats complain that this overreaction will deprive the public of the views of judicious commentators such as former UK Ambassador to the UN and Iraq Sir Jeremy Greenstock.

Sir Ivor Roberts, former UK Ambassador to Italy, whose stinging Valedictory Despatch was leaked to the media, claims the new rules will be unworkable.

However, Sir Brian Barder, a former High Commissioner to Australia and prolific blogger, warns that the FCO has within its power to withold the pensions of retired officers, which might prove a deterrent to some ex diplomats speaking out.

Got an opinion? Write to us at: editor@embassymagazine.com or post your comments on Sir Brian's blog: www.barder.com/ephems/712

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