Tory foreign policy shift may harm UK

James Blitz

British foreign policy is entering a period of “intense debate and uncertainty”, while the media is undergoing an “extraordinary revolution” a veteran diplomatic editor recently told a meeting of the Diplomatic Press Attache Association of London (DPAAL).

FT Defence and Diplomatic Editor James Blitz told press attachés British diplomacy was undergoing the biggest shift in a generation with Foreign Secretary William Hague’s “reorientation” of foreign policy away from the Euro-Atlantic blocs towards the BRICS and Commonwealth countries.

He said Prime Minister David Cameron’s “tough” stance on the EU and his pledge to hold an in/out referendum if the Tory party won the next election would lead to four years of uncertainty.

The risk of Britain’s exit from the EU could damage inward investment and would represent “a change in Britain’s place in the world” which could reduce its influence with non-EU powers such as the US and China, he said.

The possible withdrawal of Britain from the EU could also play into the hands of the Scottish nationalists in Scotland’s independence referendum in 2014, he added.

Mr Blitz warned that the Prime Minister’s promise to repatriate powers from the EU may be stalled because there would be “no reason” for EU leaders to enter into negotiations before the 2015 elections while question marks remained over a Conservative victory.

Analysing changes in the British media, Mr Blitz said the digital revolution was putting media groups under financial pressure and he predicted consolidation in the future.

He went on to say that the intense competition for information among the tabloids was an underlying factor in the phone hacking scandal that had led to the Leveson Inquiry into press standards.

Twitter was becoming “more and more important” and he advised press attachés to use the micro-blogging medium as a source for gathering foreign policy insights and a tool for generating embassy news and information.

Sharing ideas on who to follow on Twitter, Mr Blitz singled out the FCO as a good source: “The FCO is devoting a huge effort on Twitter to get a lot of information out there. A year ago I would have wondered why you would want to follow the Foreign Office; today I think you would be mad not to.”