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Politics & press news – Embassy 26 – Jun 2010

Coalition foreign policy “more effective”

Diplomats have given the foreign policy of the Con-Dem coalition a cautious vote of confidence, saying outcomes were likely to be “more balanced”.

Responding to an Embassy survey, over half the respondents (54 per cent) said a coalition was likely to produce more effective foreign policy, because, as one diplomat put it, “there will be a wider range of views on the table.” Another said the process of consensus building would make the policy “more transparent”.

However, a third of respondents (36 per cent) predict that the coalition will produce less effective foreign policy. “There is a risk of slower decision making on the big issues  or mixed messages.”

One Ambassador commented that he was satisfied the foreign policy priorities that had already been made public, but warned that to achieve them the FCO would need “more not less resources”. Many political observers feel the FCO will be first in line for deep cuts (see article p2).

The Ambassador went on to call for improved interaction between the FCO and the London diplomatic community. “Much depends on the interaction with ambassadors in London. If they [the FCO] follow the same pattern as the previous government – that an ambassador can only meet a minister three or four months after the request for a meeting (unless you come from a certain country) – then this would not be more effective.”

In a snap poll on the circuit, most diplomats concluded that the new team joining Foreign Secretary William Hague at the Foreign Office would deliver a more nuanced foreign policy.

Thaw on Europe
The appointment of the moderate Tory MP for Aylesbury David Lidington – who replaces Mark Francois, the Eurosceptic shadow Europe minister – is seen as a sign of the pro-European influence of the Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg. The move is welcomed by London’s diplomats, a majority of whom said in a survey that Lib Dem policies on Europe were more persuasive.

One EU Ambassador commented that the Deputy Prime Minister was the UK’s “secret weapon” in Europe. Fluent in Dutch, German and Spanish, Mr Clegg has a Dutch mother, a Spanish wife and has lived in Germany, so he has a foot in both the Latin and Germanic halves of Europe. The Lib Dem leader also has Ukrainian roots to impress the Central and East Europeans.

Boost for development
The second minister of state in the team will be the Lib Dem MP for Taunton Deane Jeremy Browne, the former treasury spokesman and son of a diplomat, who has lived in Iran, Zimbabwe and Belgium.

His brief includes South East Asia, the Far East, Central and South America, Australasia and the Pacific, Overseas Territories and consular affairs.

The ring-fencing of the international development budget – despite deep cuts elsewhere in the coalition’s emergency budget – is also a key Lib-Dem commitment that has filtered into the coalition foreign policy.

Divided opinion on Middle East
Taking over the tough brief of Afghanistan, South Asia, Middle East, North Africa and counter-terrorism is Tory heavyweight Alistair Burt MP, a chief whip and deputy chairman of the Conservative Party. But his membership of the Conservative Friends of Israel lobby group may divide opinion among the corps, with pro-Israel groups welcoming the appointment, while raising some eyebrows among Arab diplomats.

Safe hands for Africa and Commonwealth
The shadow justice minister, Henry Bellingham MP, has moved to the Foreign Office as junior minister responsible for Africa and the UN. The MP for North West Norfolk has experience in foreign affairs, having worked as parliamentary private secretary for former defence and foreign secretary Malcolm Rifkind from 1991-97.

Covering FCO business in the House of Lords is left in the capable hands of Tory sage Lord Howell of Guilford, who will also take on responsibility for the Commonwealth, migration, drugs and international crime. The former Secretary of State for Energy and Transport is said to have coined the term ‘privatisation’ and is father-in-law to Chancellor George Osborne.

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The new FCO team (from left): Alistair Burt MP, Henry Bellingham MP, Jeremy Browne MP, Foreign Secretary the Rt Hon William Hague, David Lidington and Lord Howell

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