Tim also claims that the Foreign Office won’t like this ‘redirection of their mission’. I’m not so sure. From what I hear, the Foreign Office is loving it; it’s just like old times. The FO was marginalised under the previous government; Labour cut staff in embassies and consulates around the globe. The coalition has attempted to depart from Labour’s ‘ethical foreign policy’; they have not achieved anything yet but the Foreign Office is resurgent, spreading its éclat across Whitehall once more. William Hague cuts a dash ahead of Liam Fox and Andrew Mitchell. And the trade and industry unit that Simon Fraser ran at the Business Department will probably follow him to the Foreign Office when he becomes the new Permanent Secretary.
The emphasis on trade demands that the vestiges of British international prestige be maintained. Diplomats, not without a note of self-interest, will hope that the government grasp that lavish embassies cannot become a thing of the past. You won’t sell top-end manufacturing from the 13th floor of a stuffy tower-block* in Kuala Lumpur, when dignitaries can talk shop with the French whilst sipping a BNS next to the swimming pool. If prosperity depends on trade, then cuts cannot fall on embassies in rapidly developing countries.
*It is rumoured that the British Embassy in Malaysia will be moved from its current palatial surroundings (which Malaysia very generously gave to its former master) to occupy a floor in a soulless high-rise building. If Cameron is serious about selling Britain, then that plan must be shelved; not least because the Malays have taken offence that we intend to sell their gift.