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Hague's blueprint for British foreign policy

Mark Urban | 18:02 UK time, Thursday, 1 July 2010

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William Hague has set out his blueprint for British foreign policy. He says that from now on it, "unashamedly pursues our enlightened national interest".

It is not easy for civil servants to swallow this kind of message, implying as it does that they have been failing to do so prior to the new government sweeping to power.

But Lord Renwick, formerly ambassador to Washington, reckons the Foreign and Commonwealth Office are more relieved to have a man of Hague's stature than they are worried by some of the political exigencies of today's speech.

He believes that Downing Street became too strong in formulating international policy under Labour, and that a "heavyweight like William Hague can restore the Foreign Office to its rightful position".

There is a good deal of code in a speech like today's. Does the emphasis on building new relationships or on the multi-polar nature of today's world mean a relative diminution of our ties with the USA? Or is Mr Hague, by emphasising how much of modern diplomacy is done by phone, e-mail, or even Twitter, implying that expensive embassies could be cut back in many parts of the world?

Both of those questions could probably be answered 'yes' given the widespread sense that power is becoming more diffuse in the world and that the prospect of 25% cuts across Whitehall means plenty of misery for Mr Hague's department. But he cannot say those things explicitly.

Speeches like today allow the secretary of state to talk about new challenges or priorities - but he or she cannot say they are giving up on certain things or dispense with the lists of worthy policy priorities prepared by their staff. No wonder former diplomat and MP George Walden describes the writing of addresses such as Mr Hague's as being, "like sculpting air".

The other thing about diplomacy is that it consists of partnerships that will only work if the other side finds them beneficial. This is particularly true of Britain's relations with Europe.

Mr Hague famously campaigned to keep the pound, and is widely regarded within the Conservative party as a Euro-sceptic. Yet today he paid due attention to improving relations with Europe and to regaining influence by reversing a recent trend downwards in the posting of UK civil servants to EU institutions.

Many people suspect that the new foreign secretary is emphasising bilateral relations with countries precisely because he suspects that multi-lateral forums like the EU, with 27 members, are hopelessly unwieldy.


If he manages to develop good ties with the likes of Germany, France or Italy, Mr Hague will manage to square the circle of maintaining influence in Europe while checking the growth of its institutions and removing various matters from their competence.

But the key really will be whether those countries think Britain is a worthwhile partner or whether by contrast it is too awkward, and indeed too poor, to be worth it.

Similar considerations will inform the reception given to Mr Hague and his fellow FCO ministers in New Delhi or Brasilia or the other places where they seek to build influence.

The descent of a British delegation is one thing, but ultimately the success or failure of the whole enterprise will depend on perceptions of how strong the UK is; culturally, militarily, in its intelligence services, the quality of its diplomacy and, above all, economically.


  • Comment number 1.


    So 'heavyweight' Hague is to "unashamedly pursue our enlightened national interest".

    When did he work out what that is - and how to do it? Blair and Brown pursued a policy of annoying as many foreign Johnnies as they could shake a 'stick' at. I think it is a bit late for enlightenment. As for 'national interest' - isn't THAT what all wars are based on? Didn't Jesus say something about a different way??

    Did Hague vote for the Illegal War? There's 'heavyweight' - isn'it!

    Oh - it's all going awfully well.

  • Comment number 2.


    Shrewd or what?

  • Comment number 3.


    "we will deliver a distinctive British Foreign policy that extends our global reach and influence, that is agile and energetic in a networked world, that uses diplomacy to secure our prosperity, that builds up significantly strengthened bilateral relations for Britain, that harnesses the appeal of our culture and heritage to promote our values,"

    THE APPEAL OF OF OUR CULTURE AND HERITAGE? You what? Our culture doesn't even appeal in UK! Obesity, nihilstic entertainment, violence, teenage pregnancy, debt-as-a-way-of-life, multiple choice education (dumb, dumb or dumb) war-mongering etc.

    Go go go Whisky-Bill. I thank whichever god is the right one that 'I won't be here in 30 or 40 years' time.' Not with yet another juvenile upstart, full of self belief, annoying Johnnie Foreigner all the more.

  • Comment number 4.

    'Sculpting air' indeed ..... but 'the usual sycophantic reference to British Council' as one commentator put it sickens and his suggestion
    in later sections of the speech that cultural diplomacy and education will now be co-ordinated(along with defence and foreign policy) through the new National Security Council doesn't sound like it has been thought through? Surely that must mean an end to British Council's "charitable" status at last? That fig-leaf will certainly now have to go methinks -
    and please count Scotland, Wales and Norther Ireland out ... McGuinness and Salmond will want no truck with bullsht, spooks or British Council!

  • Comment number 5.

    ..the success or failure of the whole enterprise will depend on perceptions of how strong the UK is; culturally, militarily, in its intelligence services, the quality of its diplomacy and, above all, economically. ...

    which depends upon being good at philosophy? If the head is not right nothing else will be either? what models are they using? what is their highest term?

    how can cameron as patron of the JNF, square that with human rights for all? or is it human rights for some?

    one problem for the uk is china and their polices of beggaring the uk [and everyone else] by playing outside the human rights/economic laws model of society.

    another is migration. ie open borders.

    as for the neocon wars....

  • Comment number 6.

    things have moved on Hague...we now know that the Attorney General had serious reservations about the legality of the Iraq invasion so just imagine what we 'NOT BEING TOLD' about Afghanistan...bring the guys home leave it to the Yanks, they love all that flag waving guff...bring the squaddies home, there's a good Yorkshireman...

  • Comment number 7.


    The squaddies are having a ball stevie - doing the job they love, and being paid for it. THEY should be asked if cessation is what they want, rather than bringing them home willy nilly. After all, Johnnie Foreigner is of no account - expendable - and extreme paintballing is keeping men of violence away from our alcoholic town centres.

    Forget the War on Terror - think unemployment and idle hands.

  • Comment number 8.

    'The descent of a British delegation is one thing, but ultimately the success or failure of the whole enterprise will depend on perceptions of how strong the UK is; culturally, militarily, in its intelligence services, the quality of its diplomacy and, above all, economically.'
    (Mark Urban)

    Ah 'the quality of its diplomacy' ...... Judge that for yourselves. This is what British Council's Strategic Director for Intercultural Dialogue
    Mike Hardy was saying in Indonesia last week as Hague stood up to speak: Read Mike H's views on Identities and 'even noisier challenges'

    Neither 'Moslem piety' which he prefers nor Europe's anti-discrimination legislation which he views with disdain stopped this 'leading academic'
    (sic) who is in fact a British Council employee not a university person
    'skyjacking' a British Council/UK DfID public administration project in
    Palestine in 2000 - displacing the appointed and properly qualified team
    that had been selected following public advertisement in 'The Economist'
    and 'The Guardian'; appointing himself and his British Council sidekick Emma Sky to replace the appointed team after we unceremoniously bundled out; and then 'gagging' all enquiries including those from Ministers as
    part of a British Council cover-up of irregularities on a £1.9 million
    project that Freedom of Information requests subsequently confirmed was
    in fact 'non-existent' even though British Council DATS billed UK DfID: 'Further Questions for British Council's Mr Hardy?'

    And don't mention Hawk Trainers, East Timor and British Council - or
    many people may get even more cynical about UK 'cultural diplomacy':



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