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Politics & press news – Embassy 53

Reshuffle triggers speculation

The change of leadership at the Foreign Office over the summer left the institution reeling at a time of multiple global crises, while politicos and diplomats mused over who will be the post-2015 Foreign Secretary.

Prime Minister David Cameron’s pre-election reshuffle hit the FCO hard with the stepping down of William Hague, whose moderating influence between the hawkish Prime Minister and his doveish Lib Dem Deputy was admired by foreign diplomats and mandarins in King Charles Street.

His successor, the eurosceptic Philip Hammond, is considered by MPs on the Foreign Affairs Committee to be a “safe pair of hands” but is not deemed a foreign policy expert.

Pulling foreign policy strings
“He is thought of as a place-holder until the next election,” one senior backbench MP told Embassy. “It’s unlikely that he will be able to achieve long-term objectives such as re-negotiating Britain’s relationship with the EU.”

Speculation has begun over who will be the post-2015 Foreign Secretary, should the Conservative party win. With William Hague out of the picture, George Osborne, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, has stepped up his influence on UK foreign policy, Foreign Office officials told the Financial Times.

Boris for Foreign Secretary?
However, with Boris Johnson declaring his intentions to run for parliament next year, Mr Osborne may now have a formidable rival. Both the Chancellor and Mayor would see the position as a stepping-stone for leadership of the Conservative party.

While some media reports say the charismatic London Mayor has the business secretary job in mind, it is significant that he coincided his announcement with a major speech on Europe. He has offered strong opinions that contradict the Chancellor’s on Britain’s policy in the Middle East. He can also point to his success in promoting London as a global city.

Ministerial resignations
A spate of resignations and sackings left the FCO temporarily rudderless during a challenging summer. With the demotion of Hugh Robertson, the Middle East Department has its third minister in less than a year. The position was offered to ex defence secretary Liam Fox who turned down the junior minister role.

The job went to Tobias Ellwood MP, an ex soldier who served in the Middle East and acted as Private Secretary to Liam Fox when he was defence secretary. Mr Ellwood was born in New York, grew up in Germany and Austria, and served with the army’s Royal Green Jackets. He was stationed in Northern Ireland, Cyprus, Kuwait, Germany and Bosnia.

The FCO was dealt a second blow when Baroness Warsi – the first woman Muslim to attend cabinet – tendered her resignation, saying Britain’s policy over the conflict in Gaza was “morally indefensible” and “was not in Britain’s national interest”.

Former Lords Chief Whip Baroness Anelay of St John’s will take over FCO business in the House of Lords.

Africa Minister Mark Simmonds also resigned, on personal grounds, and has been succeeded by James Duddridge MP, a former government whip who was a merchant banker before entering politics in 2005.


The new Foreign Secretary the Rt Hon Philip Hammond arrives at the FCO , accompanied by PUS Simon Fraser

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