Dominic Raab has to handle a stand-off with Iran and his own civil servants

It’s not an easy time to become Foreign Secretary, as Dominic Raab is about to find out. There is, of course, the crisis in relations with Iran, which threatens to escalate further in the coming days. Raab is taking over shortly after Jeremy Hunt announced a European-led mission to protect shipping in the Gulf, which may not necessarily accord with Boris Johnson’s own foreign policy instincts. One of the reasons that the Iranian Revolutionary Guard was able to seize the British-flagged tanker was that Britain had turned down the US’s suggestion of co-operation to protect boats, for fear of appearing too cosy with Donald Trump. Johnson has no such qualms

Alan Duncan’s resignation just adds to the chaos in the Foreign Office

Sir Alan Duncan’s resignation will only leave a hole in the Foreign Office for a couple of days before the new prime minister replaces him. But he’s not the only missing minister in that department: Mark Field is suspended while the incident at Mansion House is investigated. Duncan had been covering some of Field’s responsibilities over the past few weeks, and now he is off too, just as the crisis in relations with Iran deepens. Jeremy Hunt, meanwhile, has been busy conducting a leadership campaign, all of which gives the Foreign Office, normally the most composed and regal part of Whitehall, a slightly chaotic, neglected feel. This may change mid-week


Downing Street cat fight

Claws out, it’s all kicking off in Downing Street. After a month of drastic change and bubbling tensions among Westminster’s big beasts, things have started to turn violent. However, rather than May vs Osborne, it’s the government’s two top cats who can’t seem to keep a lid on it. When David Cameron moved out of No.10, he left Larry the cat behind –insisting that he still loved him. In the MP for Witney’s absence, Downing Street’s resident mouser has struggled to cope. While little is yet known of his relationship with the new Prime Minister  it’s Palmerston — the Foreign Office cat — who appears to be the cause of friction. The pair have been

Monkey business | 15 November 2018

The opening episode of BBC1’s Dynasties — the new Attenborough-fronted series from the Natural History Unit — introduced us to ‘a territory ruled by a strong and determined leader: an alpha male known as David’. Despite what you might think, though, this wasn’t a reference to the Natural History Unit itself, but to a troop of chimps in Senegal, whose power struggles unfolded on Sunday in an almost Shakespearean way. As ever, Sir David started by demonstrating that he can still handle a spot of location shooting, in this case bellowing a few lines from a jeep speeding across the African savannah. But after that, he was again content simply

Home at last

The Travellers Club was founded in 1819 to provide congenial surroundings for those who had ‘travelled outside the British Islands to a distance of 500 miles from London in a direct line’, and opportunities to meet distinguished foreign visitors. As it nears its bicentenary, John Martin Robinson has produced a thorough, scholarly and highly readable biography on an institution that has served among other things as the ‘Foreign Office Canteen’ and a refuge for derring-do adventurers. The Club’s members included royalty, dukes, ambassadors and explorers, not to mention aesthetes, artists and even authors, despite Anthony Powell’s claims to the contrary. Explorers included Lt Col William Leake, who surveyed the Nile

Can Jeremy Hunt really keep playing it safe on Brexit?

Funnily enough, MPs across the Commons were today very keen to welcome Jeremy Hunt to his position as Foreign Secretary and suggest that he might garner more praise from them than his predecessor. At his first departmental questions in the new role, Hunt also had to address one of the messes left by Boris Johnson – and explain what his priorities were for the aspect of the portfolio that Johnson resigned over: the EU. The priorities of a Secretary of State can often be divined from which questions he or she chooses to answer at these sessions, and which ones are farmed out to his junior ministers. Hunt answered questions

Feeding the Crocodile

It is a tragedy that the party that has ruined Zimbabwe, led by a man who was one of the chief perpetrators of its misery, has managed by hook or by crook to win a fresh mandate. The narrow margin of 0.8 per cent by which Emmerson Mnangagwa secured his victory in last week’s presidential contest will inevitably raise suspicions of foul play. But he will almost certainly be given the benefit of the doubt, not least by the British government. Mnangagwa, known as the Crocodile for his habit of biding his time and crunching his enemies as Robert Mugabe’s chief enforcer and election-rigger, has said some sensible things since overthrowing

Boris Johnson is right about Saudi Arabia

In what sense does anyone actually disagree with what Boris Johnson said about Saudi Arabia and Iran? Does anyone actually think that his observation that they are both engaged in ‘puppeteering’ in Syria and Yemen is not only true, but understates the seriousness of the problem? Does anyone believe the Foreign Office when it says that Mr Johnson’s remarks do not reflect the position of the Government? Now I know the argument, viz, that Saudi Arabia is an important and very sensitive ally and the way to deal with its sensitivities is to make criticism in private, which is what, we are invited to believe, Theresa May did when she

Boris Johnson vs the virtue signallers

As the government ‘consider’ inviting Donald Trump for a state visit, the president-elect was top of the agenda at today’s Foreign Office questions. With the Westminster establishment riled over Trump’s latest tweet claiming Nigel Farage would make a ‘great’ UK ambassador to the US, Simon Burns hit back — suggesting Boris Johnson return the favour and request Trump send Hillary Clinton to fill the role of US ambassador to the UK. Continuing the theme of putting people forward against their will for jobs that either aren’t available or don’t exist, Labour’s David Winnick said that it was Brandon Dixon — the Hamilton actor who made an anti-Trump speech over the weekend — who

Theresa May won’t be surprised Liam Fox and Boris are already battling it out

The dawn of a new government sparks a search amongst journalists for the flashpoints and tensions within it which are likely to bubble over. Just weeks after Theresa May walked into Downing Street, the source of that potential turmoil in her Government already seems clear. And if the revelation of the Prime Minister’s intervention between Liam Fox and Boris Johnson is anything to go on, it looks like tension between the two may cause some trouble for the Prime Minister over the months and years ahead. Liam Fox sent a letter to Boris (copying in the PM) in which he made a power grab for some of the Foreign Office’s remit to

The war on Christians is extending into Turkey

Turkey’s President Erdogan is already facing international calls to respect human rights in Turkey following last weekend’s failed coup. Now he’s also being encouraged to champion the rights of Christians living in the country as well. The call is coming from the Anglican Church’s venerable man in Istanbul, Canon Ian Sherwood, who for 28 years has been chaplain of the British consulate there and priest of the Crimean Memorial Church in the city. ‘As long-centuries established Christians in Turkey we are alarmed at how life is evolving in Turkey,’ says Sherwood, who warns that the climate of tolerance has changed in the country, which is more than 99 per cent Muslim,

Double speak

Tom Fletcher, a young star of the Foreign Office, made his reputation last year when he blogged his ‘valedictory despatch’ from Beirut, where he had served as ambassador for several years. From time immemorial ambassadors had written these despatches on quitting their posts. It was the occasion to spread your diplomatic wings with candid observations on the country or career you were leaving. A few have been small literary gems and have been republished in book form. Some were laced with indiscretion. In his farewell despatch, Sir Ivor Roberts, our man in Rome earlier this century, was extremely rude (rightly so) about the way the Foreign Office was run. His

The West has totally misjudged the situation in Libya

Libya’s former Prime Minister Dr. Mahmoud Jibril has become the first senior leader of its Arab Spring revolution to call time on the country’s new western-backed government, saying ‘the chances of success are very slim’. This apparent failure hasn’t been caused by a lack of support, which has poured in from London and Washington in a bid to get the Government of National Accord (GNA) to stand up and walk on its own two feet. It was also hoped that by doing this, a fix could be found for the twin problems of Islamic State and mass migration. But Dr Jibril, who helped steer the country through its brutal uprising

Liam Fox is wrong to suggest that the EU controls the Foreign Office

Former Defence Secretary Dr Liam Fox told an audience at the Royal United Services Institute last week that the Foreign Office had been reduced to “little more than the EU embassy in Whitehall”. He is not the first person to accuse the FCO of promoting the interests of foreigners above those of Britain. But his analysis is way off target. Full disclosure: I am a recovering diplomat. I know the Foreign Office’s shortcomings – including its tendency to sit on the fence in a crisis until it is too late; and its habit (now changing, at last) of moving staff with expertise to deal with countries in which they are

Why is the Foreign Office getting involved in America’s gay rights debate?

If there was one piece of advice the Foreign Office was going to give to British citizens travelling to the USA you might think it would be to wary of lunatics armed to the hilt with semi-automatics.   But no, our civil servants do not regard the possibility of having your ass shot off as you innocently backpack around the backwoods of North Carolina to be worthy of a warning. There is one piece of advice the Foreign Office has put on its website, though.  It states:  ‘LGBT travellers may be affected by legislation passed recently in the states of North Carolina and Mississippi.’  The laws to which it refers are

The Spectator’s Notes | 18 February 2016

In his authoritative biography of Pope John Paul II, George Weigel writes lucidly about the unlucid subject of phenomenology. It is a way of thinking which rejects the dry categories of empiricists and the abstractions of idealists, and concentrates instead on ‘the basic experiences of life as they come to us’. Weigel takes the example of ‘girl meets boy’: ‘An empiricist will analyse the brain chemistry of a young woman seeing, hearing and touching a handsome young man … an idealist may worry that the young woman’s commitment to the second categorical imperative [of Kant] (never use another person as a means) may be wavering in the face of other

Foreign Office cleaners haven’t been disciplined after all for writing to Philip Hammond

The story of the fourteen Foreign Office cleaners who wrote to Philip Hammond about being paid National Living Wage has become murkier. After their note reached the Foreign Secretary, the cleaners — who work for Interserve, a private contractor — were called into a meeting. According to reports yesterday, the cleaners say that three of them were made redundant and the others were accused of ‘bringing the contract into disrepute’. In an attempt to bat off any suggestion that the cleaners were being told off for daring to contact their boss — something that would be a very bad look for the Foreign Secretary — Hammond said at Foreign and Commonwealth Questions this morning that

The welcome return of the valedictory dispatch

‘All I ever tried to do was hold a mirror up and show you how beautiful you really are. Shine on, you crazy diamond.’ I have just read one of the finest ambassadors’ ‘valedictory’ dispatches ever composed, except it isn’t one: it had to be posted on the internet, and was, last month. What was essentially a sometimes-exasperated love letter to Lebanon will never see the Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s printers. The valedictory died in 2006. So Tom Fletcher, who after four years as ambassador in Beirut had come to the end of his posting (‘Unlike your politicians,’ he tells Lebanon, ‘I can’t extend my own term’) had to write

Portrait of the week | 13 August 2015

Home The Metropolitan Police encouraged people to celebrate VJ Day despite reports in the Mail on Sunday (picked up from an investigation by Sky News) of plans by Islamic State commanders to blow up the Queen. The RMT union announced two more strikes on the London Underground for the last week in August. Network Rail was fined £2 million by the rail regulator for delays in 2014-15, many of them at London Bridge. A tanker carrying propane gas caught fire on the M56 motorway near Chester. England won the Ashes series after beating Australia by an innings and 78 runs at Trent Bridge; Australia had been bowled out for 60

Foreign Office clear out continues: Mark Simmonds stands down as FCO minister

Number 10 has today announced that Mark Simmonds, the Conservative MP for Boston and Skegness, is stepping down as a Foreign Office minister – and will not stand as an MP at the next election. A Downing Street spokeswoman said that ‘the decision was made before the situation in Gaza and Israel had developed’ and that he had told the Prime Minister he wanted to step down on 4 August. Indeed, David Cameron’s reply to Simmonds’ resignation letter says, rather pointedly: ‘This is something we agreed some weeks ago and a decision I know you have given a huge amount of thought to over recent months.’ Even if his decision has