Foreign office

Rory Stewart is a fish out of water

Rory Stewart is one of that almost extinct species in the modern Conservative party, a one-nation Tory. He is also – or was (until Boris Johnson kicked him out) – a politician with hinterland. He had been places and done things before getting himself elected in his late thirties, entering parliament in 2010. Disillusion rapidly set in: Too much of our time was absorbed in gossip about the promotion of one colleague or the scandal engulfing another. Even four weeks in, I sensed more impotence, suspicion, envy, resentment, claustrophobia and schadenfreude than I had seen in any other profession. It is made clear to him from the outset that rebellion

Foreign Office slashes China centre funding

Liz Truss has been in Madrid this week, talking tough on Taiwan. In the face of continued Chinese aggression, Truss is keen to support the island republic, such as by boosting arms sales there. Yet when pressed this morning on LBC, Truss struggled to add more detail, suggesting that ‘the defence that Taiwan need is already being provided through commercial providers by a variety of nations.’ It comes after a mixed performance at the Foreign Affairs committee on Tuesday, in which Truss appeared baffled about reported delays to the UK’s China strategy, which was supposed to be passed to the cabinet last week. Her top official, Sir Philip Barton, claimed

A lesson for those calling Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe ‘ungrateful’

In the latest installment from the idiot age of Twitter, #ungratefulcow has been trending. The reason? Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe had expressed, mildly and politely, some unhappiness that it had taken Her Britannic Majesty’s Government six years to free her from Iranian captivity. Cue a handful of shallow trolls slagging her off, and a lot of other people slagging them off. I say ‘mildy and politely’ because to my mind, the salient characteristic of Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s comments was its restraint. Most people, I submit, would be furious beyond words to miss most of their only child’s first years of life. Yet Zaghari-Ratcliffe offered the sort of understated irritation that is at the heart of British emotional expression: this was

How the Foreign Office secured Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s release

There was a rare display of unity in the Commons chamber this afternoon when Liz Truss gave a statement on the release of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe. While Labour deputy leader Angela Rayner went on the attack at PMQs, asking whether Johnson’s comments when he was Foreign Secretary had made things worse, there was a far more conciliatory tone in the Commons when the Foreign Secretary updated MPs on the 43-year-old British-Iranian dual national’s safe return, after being detained in Iran for more than five years on charges of plotting to overthrow the Tehran government. Tulip Siddiq – the Labour MP for Hampstead and Kilburn which is the constituency of the Ratcliffes

Liz Truss is having a good war

Liz Truss gave a striking statement in the Commons this afternoon on the action the government was taking to respond to the Russian invasion of Ukraine. It contrasted to the approach taken by some of her colleagues, because it contained a number of admissions about the impact of this action. For the first time, the Foreign Secretary stated that Britain would ‘have to undergo some economic hardship as a result of our sanctions’. This has been implicit over the past few days, but Truss was the first to say it clearly. She added that ‘our hardships are nothing compared to those endured by the people of Ukraine’, and also warned

Foreign Office squirms on ‘genocide amendment’

‘The job of the Ministry of Agriculture is to look after farmers. The job of the Foreign Office is to look after foreigners.’ Or so jibed Norman Tebbit about Whitehall’s grandest department. In recent months Mr S has covered the antics of the Foreign Office (FCDO) with a cynical eye, as ministers and mandarins have done everything in their power not to offend President Xi Jinping and his lackeys in Beijing. Whether it’s foot-dragging on a boycott of the Winter Olympics or quietly trying to reopen trade talks with China, there’s every sign that in the corridors of power, the spirit of the ‘golden era’ never truly ended. Take poor Amanda

BBC political editor frontrunner’s thousand-dollar bash

Of all the jobs in Westminster journalism, BBC political editor is thought to be the hardest. Laura Kuenssberg will shortly be quitting the role after nearly seven years in post but it seems the corporation is having a hard time finding a successor. First, favourite Vicki Young, Kuenssberg’s deputy, ruled herself out of the running. And then, last week, Mr S revealed that the Beeb had had to extend the deadline by another fortnight to allow more applicants. The current frontrunner is Jon Sopel, who recently returned to Britain after almost eight years as the BBC’s main man in North America. Despite protestations that he is taking a ‘long break’ to write a book,

Truss’s Foreign Office bankrolling Stonewall

Looking back, it wasn’t a great 2021 for LGBT+ group Stonewall. There were the allegations it misrepresented the law in its advice to Essex University, accusations from founder Matthew Parris that it was trying to delegitimise critics and the ongoing exodus of Whitehall departments from its much-criticised diversity scheme. But despite all this controversy, the charity’s latest accounts reveal a still-reliable stream of income from one reliable source: the taxpayer. Stonewall received £1.25 million in taxpayer-funded grants in just 18 months to March 2021, according to documents published this week. This figure is a near-67 per cent increase on the £748,000 they received in their previous accounts, which covered the 12 months up

The Foreign Office isn’t fit for purpose

Now that the dust from the choppers has settled, we are left with two abiding images of the West’s adventure in Afghanistan. The first is an American Chinook hovering over its embassy, rescuing staff in a botched evacuation. This debacle unfolded just weeks after president Biden promised the world there would be no parallel with the fall of Saigon, and ‘no circumstance where you see people being lifted off the roof of an embassy’. The second is a plane taking off from Kabul laden with 150 pets. The general success of the war in Afghanistan never came down to British policy. It’s for Washington’s post-mortem to confront the difficult truths about

Katy Balls

Afghanistan: five shocking claims made by the Foreign Office whistleblower

Dominic Raab faced the media round from hell this morning. The former Foreign Secretary faced a series of questions about evidence published by a former Foreign Office official over the government’s handling of the Afghanistan crisis. Raphael Marshall – an Oxford graduate with three years in the diplomatic service – worked in the department’s special cases team during the evacuation efforts. In testimony given to the foreign affairs select committee published on Tuesday, Marshall has given an account of the dysfunction and chaos he says dominated the government response. Among the most eye-catching claims: 1. Animals were prioritised over humans During the evacuation, there was a very public row over

Fears over Mandarin shortage in Whitehall

‘China Spy Blitz’ blared the Sun this morning: ‘UK spooks hiring Mandarin speakers in cyber war.’ Spy bosses, the paper reports, are embarking on a recruitment drive, directed at people who speak the language or have grown up within a multilingual family, with MI5, MI6 and GCHQ all increasingly wary about a moment of reckoning with the Communist superpower. Yet while the secret services have woken up to the threat posed by Beijing, others within government appear to still be fast asleep. Newly obtained figures reveal that the number of fluent Mandarin speakers within the Foreign Office (FCDO) has dropped by nearly 10 per cent since 2016. A Freedom of Information request by Mr Steerpike showed

What Liz Truss didn’t say

As the big winner of the reshuffle, Liz Truss’s appointment as Foreign Secretary set the cat among the pigeons. Truss is the first Conservative woman to take on the brief and cuts a rather different figure to her predecessor Dominic Raab who was, by comparison, publicity shy. Since her promotion, there has been a non-stop stream of Twitter and Instagram posts documenting her meetings in New York, Mexico and Westminster. Today in Manchester, Truss gave her first speech to a domestic audience on what she wants to achieve. Truss is the first conservative woman to take on the brief and cuts a rather different figure to her predecessor Dominic Raab The former

The rise of the female ambassador

It is, of course, an excellent thing and a mark of social progress when an institutional bastion falls to woman-power. If the days are gone when the upper echelons of UK diplomacy were closed to women then so much the better, when a woman who married had to leave the service, and when female diplomats — with the honourable exception of Pauline (now Baroness) Neville-Jones, who resigned after being passed over for Paris — knew better than to hope for the top postings. The 21st century requires no less: entry on equal terms to the men, progression on equal terms to the men, and access to the most senior jobs

The Foreign Office has lost the plot in the Middle East

Last Friday the UN Security Council rejected any extension of the arms embargo on Iran. That embargo — imposed in 2007 — began to get phased out after the 2015 Iran nuclear deal. But a ‘snapback’ provision was put in place intended to allow the return of all such sanctions should Iran violate the terms of the deal. Iran has been violating those terms for some time, but on Friday, when the United States hoped that its allies would join it in deploring this fact, only the Dominican Republic voted with it. The UK, like France and Germany, chose to abstain. On the question of whether Russia and China should

Why can’t Britain’s foreign aid be used to help Christians too?

For years now, the British government has prided itself on how much money it gives away in foreign aid. But of course it’s not just the amount that matters — it’s how effective it is. Now that the Prime Minister is to wrap the Department for International Development back into the Foreign Office, it’s a chance for us to ask again: who are we as a country? What are our values? And how can we ensure that taxpayers’ money is well spent? It can be difficult to ensure that a recipient of aid is legitimate and worthy. That’s why there’s been a tendency for the UK and aid agencies to

The civil service definition of bullying has changed over the years

In my 37 years in the Diplomatic Service, I neither witnessed nor experienced what I considered to be bullying.  There were senior officials who took regular pleasure in finding fault with a cutting remark. Others swore like troopers. I was the speechwriter to three Foreign Secretaries. One of them told me, with a sardonic laugh, that my latest draft was ‘as useful as a dead fish’.  But never in a month of Sundays did I think any of this to be bullying. The Foreign Office had exacting standards and you expected to be held to them. Still less was it grounds for complaint if the minister rejected your advice, even