Back to the good old days
You can read the full text of the speech here
William Hague’s speech today had more than a veneer of patriotism, bringing back images of empire and British greatness. Stating that “against all odds and for the first time in decades, British diplomacy is advancing not retreating”, Hague set out bold measures to boost the power and status of the Foreign Office (FCO).
He denounced the “strategic shrinkage of Britain’s influence in the world” that had occurred under the previous Labour government before announcing how this shrinkage would be reversed. Due to recent world events, and in particular the Arab Spring, Hague said there is a need now more than ever for strong foreign policy.
Three flagship reforms were outlined. Firstly, that the purpose of the FCO will now be “security, prosperity and consular support to British nationals, within an overall foreign policy that seeks to strengthen the rules-based international system in support of our values”. This mention of British values suggests that in a foreign policy environment dominated by democratic revolutions and the aftermath of a decade post 9/11, Britain wants to be at the forefront of a new world order.
Hague’s second reform was to guarantee financial stability for the FCO by once again protecting it against exchange rate movements, meaning it will be stronger financially and politically. Finally, he announced a skills drive in the FCO by the name of the Diplomatic Excellence Initiative. This drive will focus on negotiation, analysis, languages, economics and policy making.
What stood out from the speech was a desire to return to the good old days of British diplomacy, where British diplomats were talented linguists, skilled analysts and successful consular assistants. By significantly increasing both the size and number of embassies around the world, Britain will once again have a strong international presence.
Highlighted during the speech was the increase in size of the British embassies in both China and India, acknowledged by Hague as emerging superpowers. This sums up both the measures in the text and the meaning behind them. In a world where Britain is increasingly seen as the United States’ lap dog and an awkward EU partner, the need to make a bold move in terms of increasing the strength of foreign policy and the FCO was clear. It remains to be seen however whether these flagship changes can go anyway towards reversing the seemingly terminal decline of British interests abroad.