UK Politics

UK plans to open five new foreign embassies

William Hague
Image caption William Hague announced the opening of a string of new UK diplomatic missions

The UK is raising its global diplomatic presence by opening five new embassies and sending more diplomats to India and China.

New embassies are planned for El Salvador, Kyrgyzstan and South Sudan, and in Madagascar and Somalia when local circumstances permit.

Foreign Secretary William Hague said it was "the biggest strategic diplomatic advance by Britain in decades".

But consulates will close or contract in some European provincial cities.

Growing economies

Mr Hague told MPs there would be 50 extra British staff in China and 30 more in India.

He said the embassy in Madagascar would reopen when the "local political situation is right", and there were plans to open an embassy in Somalia "when the security situation has improved sufficiently".

A string of new offices will open in provincial cities in India and China and across the world's fastest growing economies including Brazil, Mexico, Turkey and Indonesia.

Although no embassies will close, there will be significant cuts elsewhere to pay for the changes.

It is also hoped that reducing Foreign Office numbers in Iraq and Afghanistan will bring large savings, particularly as protection staff can then be reduced as well.

'Lean and efficient'

Mr Hague said: "Our diplomatic network is the essential infrastructure for our foreign policy and our influence overseas.

"Taken together, this represents the biggest strategic diplomatic advance by Britain in decades.

"So by 2015 we must aim to be a Foreign Office that is lean and efficient but configured to match the realities of the 21st Century."

He added: "Our decisions mean that our reach when British companies need assistance or British nationals are in danger will go further and be stronger."

Mr Hague said he had increased programme funding in the FCO to £139m this year but this would have to fall in future years, though remaining above £100m.

BBC diplomatic correspondent James Robbins says all of this may well prove controversial but Mr Hague is apparently determined to extend the UK's influence in a fast-changing world.

Last year Prime Minister David Cameron promised to transform British foreign policy so it is focused primarily on promoting UK businesses abroad.

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