Written evidence from Sir Edward Clay
I was a diplomat from 1968-2005. I served as High
Commissioner in Kenya (2001-05), Cyprus (1999-2001) and Uganda
(1993-97, during which period I was for a time accredited on a
non-resident basis to Rwanda and Burundi); between 1997-99 I was
the Director of Public Services in the FCO, responsible for consular,
visa, information and news, cultural and parliamentary work, and
for managing the FCO's relationships with the British Council,
BBC World Service and the Wilton Park Conference Centre.
I otherwise spent my overseas career in Eastern and
Southern Europe (twice in Cyprus), and Eastern Africa (including
twice in Kenya). In London, I spent most time on issues of defence
and international security, and human resources.
I am particularly interested in development issues,
and their relationship to governance. I became known in Kenya
in particular for speaking out on human rights, constitutional
reform and corruption. I was declared (as I remain) PNG
in that country three years after I retired, soon after the violent
end to the disputed presidential election of late 2007.
Since I retired, I have served as a trustee or committee
member of a number of NGOs, all with a development aspect. I am
an associate director of the Centre for Political and Diplomatic
Note: what follows has not been cleared with the
FCO. My last encounter with the Foreign Affairs Committee concerned
my argument with the FCO about their attempt to constrain tightly
what retired diplomats could say. I was grateful for the FAC's
support for the case I made for relaxation of the offending Rule.
The regulation concerned, DSR 5, had been tightened indefensibly
at Mr Straw's behest in 2006. It was finally relaxed in 2009.
I attach for ease of reference at the end of the following submission
my letter of thanks to the Chairman of 16 March 2009.
FCO IN UK GOVERNMENT
- Government needs a foreign policy co-ordinator
- The role and standing of that co-ordinating department,
and its Secretary of State, should be appropriate to the role
and standing HMG seeks in the world.
- The department must be resourced so that it can
take an authoritative, independent and intelligent part in inter-departmental
discussions of issues on which other departments enjoy a recognised
lead, and with parliamentary groups, NGOs, media and think-tanks
which have important perspectives of their own.
- Its essential expertise lies in its ability to
influence, argue, negotiate, and to report, interpret and advise
upon how international developments bear on British interests,
- Its authority rests upon recognition abroad,
in Whitehall and at Westminster, of the foreign ministry's primacy
in the United Kingdom on foreign affairs.
- Reflections on possible conflicts of interest.
1.1 The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO)or
any alternative ministry responsible for international policyneeds
such standing and authority in Whitehall as is needed to serve
successfully British society and its governments. The Office cannot
for long make up for weaknesses in British society or within British
governments. The question is, not of boxing above our weight but
how to box most effectively at our weight: foreign governments
will scrutinise our country for its health, and our system of
government for evidence that international affairs are no longer
dealt with as seriously as they need to be. If our foreign ministry
and its servants want to be effective and taken seriously abroad,
they and their ministers need to be taken seriously at home, and
1.2 The FCO must be the principal means by which
HMG plays its effective part in international organisations to
which we belong (the UN and its family; the European Union, including
the new European External Action Service; NATO; the Commonwealth;
the World Trade Organisation; the International Financial Institutions,
and so on); the leader in influencing and persuading, negotiating
treaties and understandings, and upholding those to which the
UK is party; and fulfilling in relation to international institutions
and other countries our shared and bilateral obligations of all
kinds, in partnership with other Whitehall departments.
1.3 The UK's ambivalence about its European avocation
has been a handicap to this country's international standing,
security and foreign policy for much of the last thirty years.
It has arguably made us less successful in areas of our strength
and emphasised (but sometimes disguised) our weaknesses. Our hostility
towards Europe has divided the FCO from much political opinion;
it has not demonstrably made us more useful as a pivot of Atlanticism,
nor strengthened our effectiveness in NATOarguably the
opposite. Europe is one of those issues on which the consensus
within the FCO for perhaps thirty years has been far from what
was fashionable, and may have helped lose it parliamentary and
public respect and support in its continuous battles over resources.
Another major issue of which the same can be said include Arab/Israel
and Middle Eastern policy more widely. In any case, our national
interest and the drive for a more economic diplomacy should lead
us to engage wholeheartedly in the EEAS and in the formulation
of an effective European international policy.
2.1 Only oneand preferably just onedepartment
is needed to bring together analysis of international issues,
assessments of the interests of the United Kingdom and of pressures
bearing upon those interests. One department is needed to focus
HMG's conduct of our international policy accordingly, in the
light of inter-departmental views. That department must also engage
with, harvest ideas from and gain the respect of the many non-governmental
sources of expertise on international policy. International policy
is not a preserve of one department: many or perhaps most Whitehall
departments have policies with international dimensions.
2.2 The new National Security Council (NSC) might
not have been invented if the FCO had not lost important capabilities
and suffered particularly debilitating attacks on its resources
in the early part of the 21st century. The FCO should be re-skilled
to do what it used to do very effectively in co-operation with
the intelligence, security and defence authorities.
2.3 The NSC is an extra cost to government, a
source of rivalry where we cannot afford it, and represents a
large intrusion of prime ministerial power into foreign policy:
our postwar history of prime minister-driven foreign policy is
not encouraging, and it undermines the post and potential contribution
of the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary. We should not, at any
rate, need two (or more) Whitehall departments running foreign
3.1 The FCO does not need to be greaterin
size or budget or in any other sensethan other Whitehall
or non-governmental stakeholders in international policy. It does
not need to compete with the expertises of other, lead departments.
There are urgent reasons for the favour in terms of funding shown
to the intelligence agencies in recent years and their increasing
public profile. Such phenomena are not the problem. The relationship
with the Ministry of Defence worked admirably for years despite
the disparity of size and the MOD's high profile.
3.2 What the FCO must do is recruit, retain and
organise itself to remain a first-class policy department, in
the first place. Successive governments have demeaned its role
("the ministry for foreigners") and blamed it for failures,
reduced its resources deliberately or negligently, and increasingly
behaved as if service delivery is the department's only or chief
function at the cost of policy formulation and implementation.
Service delivery is important, but it is not a substitute for
a foreign policy.
3.3 The Prime Minister's declaration that "ambassadors
must be salesmen" is not a startling new departure: the security
and prosperity of the UK have always been basic purposes of the
diplomatic service. The question in the present era of globalisation
of promoting exports is more complicated than it was (what is
a British company or a UK-branded good?), while promoting inward
investment in the UK is perhaps the more important task. Since
I did commercial work when it was passing through one of its periods
in fashion thirty years ago, the number of commercial posts abroad
has shrunk as it has taken a lowly place behind other priorities.
Diplomats need the chance to get experience of commercial work
in their youth, before they are called upon to do it as an ambassador.
The purpose of a diplomatic career is to train people in key skills
and give them a chance to develop and practise them before they
reach senior positions: the planning for a proper structure and
cultivation of talent is something the FCO needs always to do,
to realise full value from its investment in its people.
3.4 The establishment of the Department for International
Development (DfID) with a mandate embodied under the International
Development Assistance Act and a ring-fenced budget is a huge
innovation in the UK's international policy framework. DfID has
sometimes behaved as an alternative, overseas representative of
HMG. The department's institutional character as a spending agency
is marred by its profligacy and weakness on governance. Its flaws
reduce the effectiveness of a large and otherwise well-conceived
aid programme, and cut across efforts to make international policy
coherent and cohesive.
3.5 DfID needs to shed its old resentments, stop
avenging itself on the FCO for decades of co-habitation, re-join
Whitehall and adapt itself to the collegiate formulation and execution
of foreign policy in partnership with other stakeholders, under
the leadership of the FCO. Ministers must show a lead on this.
Some of its large budget needs putting to purposes not usually
regarded as aid. The argument that DfID's big budget is insignificant
in terms of overall UK government expenditure, is false: the aid
budget is about equivalent to what we plan to spend on the Olympics
or a bit more than the very hefty increase in funding steered
by the last government towards policing in the UK. DfID's budget
needs to respond to the wider objectives of HMG and to be assessed
more rigorously, like other departments' spending. The new Independent
Committee on Aid Impact may be useful, though whether its remit
extends to recommendations to spend less or spend differently
is doubtful. DfID money is badly needed for conflict prevention
or resolution, and to fund a proper FCO, for example.
4.1 The FCO's unique role and contribution within
government is to assess the significance of developments beyond
the UK to British interests, and to report confidently and confidentially
to London upon them. In doing so, they will need to draw upon
the resources and interests of non-governmental organisations,
the media, think tanks and other important stakeholders and departments.
They must have a more open dialogue on key foreign policy issues
with parliament, through the FAC and all-party groups, under the
supervision of their ministers.
4.2 The continuing ICT revolution and differences
in the way countries do their business have arguably made the
collection of information easier, but the interpretation of its
reliability and significance more demanding. The FCO will continue
to post most of its best people to its multilateral missions and
functional desks in London to promote the UK's role in the management
of key international issues. The network of bilateral missions
has, however, an essential role in informing policy on those issues,
and in its promotion and delivery in other countries. For a member
of the P5 with worldwide responsibilities, non-resident missions
are not an adequate substitute for resident missions in other
states, flexibly and lightly managed, but capable of representing
HMG's interests properly, seeking to exert influence and interpreting
foreign governments and countries to HMG. Rwanda in 1994 is a
reminderand not the only oneof that.
4.3 Of course, the FCO will continue to need
to hire and pull in expertise from other departments to help do
this work of reporting, analysis, influencing and negotiation.
The personnel should be systematically and appropriately selected
elsewhere. But if work needs doing in support of our international
policy, the budget of the FCO should provide for it to be done.
4.4 The pool of expertise may also include experts
contracted from outside the public service altogether, including
foreign citizens recruited in third countries. Such recruitment
should not, however, prevent the acquisition of expertise and
experience by career members of HM Diplomatic Service. Nor should
liberties be taken with the requirements of discretion and trust
which would compromise the delivery of confident and confidential
advice to the process of international policy-making.
5.1 The domestic utility of the FCO as a foreign
ministry relies substantially upon three things: first, its expertise
in international policy-making and diplomacy; second, wide acceptance
of the weight within Cabinet and Parliament of its Secretary of
State; third, the clear acceptance by foreign governments and
heads of international organisations of the unique authority of
ambassadors and high commissioners to speak on behalf of HMG as
a whole (which in turn will reflect their assessment of the weight
the FCO and its ministers carry within government).
5.2 However good the FCO, its skill in promoting
British interests depends primarily on the international reputation
of the United Kingdom as an effective, economically successful
and respected independent State, taking seriously its accepted
obligations and aspirations to maintain and develop an international
system based upon rules and law.
5.3 Foreigners will not take seriously a country
or a government which seems not to take foreign policy seriously,
appears unreliable or uncertain, and undernourishes its foreign
6.1 I have not so far dilated on the question
of possible conflicts raised in your inquiry's terms of reference.
I have left it and my reflections of my personal experience until
6.2 Diplomats may, as individuals, sometimes
be torn between conscience and duty, and very occasionally driven
to question whether they can continue to do their public duty.
Your terms of reference suggest there might be a special conflict
between supporting British exports and promoting human rights.
Such was widely supposed to be the Prime Minister's dilemma during
his recent visit to China.
6.3 In fact, in my experience, the conflict has
arisen much more often when domestic actions by the British government
have belied the high moral tone we have taken over the denial
of democratic freedoms and liberties to citizens of other countries.
Such conflicts arose during the Cold War when we wished to encourage
freedom of movement or of expression among citizens of Warsaw
Pact countries while applying a visa regime designed to prevent
such movement; applying domestic restrictions on our rights during
the troubles in Northern Ireland posed similar problems. In recent
years, our response to international terrorism has resurrected
those difficulties. British diplomats are prudent not to get too
het up about the rights of others lest their presumed moral high
ground turns into a slipway or swamp and drops them in it at a
6.4 Your terms of reference ask whether conflicts
would be caused as diplomats' tried to follow the Prime Minister's
injunction to promote trade. The cause of my disagreement with
the FCO in 2006-07 concerned my public criticism of the then Prime
Minister's interference with the inquiries of the SFO into the
business in Saudi Arabia of BAe Systems. I knew nothing of that
company's business, but I knew quite a lot about the lectures
the British government had read over many years to the governments
of countries like Kenya about the Rule of Law, due process and
anti-corruption. Mr Blair's instruction undermined all that.
6.5 I was retired by then, and felt free to speak
my mind about this hypocrisy. Our bad example would do a great
disservice not just to our own institutions but to the efforts
of brave people in badly governed countries to get action against
corruption. Whitehall did not agree, and DfID and No 10 demanded
that the FCO act. They did. Corrupt governments took note. Kenya
stopped its residual co-operation with the SFO and the latter
accordingly closed down its assistance in looking into the scams
known collectively as Anglo-Leasing and Finance.
6.6 One dilemma your terms of reference should
highlight is the diplomats' twin responsibilities for promoting
British business and suppressing corruption. The new Bribery Act,
whose enforcement has been delayed by six months to allow for
further consideration, makes corrupt behaviour abroad a crime,
if it is carried out by a British company or its representatives.
British diplomats have to grass up such companies or individuals
if there is evidence of misbehaviour. Perhaps there will be no
evidence and the Act may prove otiose. Or, since Parliament saw
fit to pass it, perhaps cases will arise. But companies operating
in some venal environments may feel vulnerable, and diplomats
may feel adrift when a foreign government decides fairlyor
more likely, unfairlyto accuse a British company of misbehaving.
Let's hope both businessmen and diplomats will have clear guidance
on how to behave and how their roles differ.
6.7 Among the worst things a British diplomat
can expect is to take a high profile on human rights or governance
issues, only to be undermined by her or his government breaching
our own standards. It is a form of British myopia or arrogance
that thinks that what we do in our own country has no bearing
on how we are perceived abroad. Oddly, modern communications mean
that people in very poor countrieswho have more curiosity
but can afford less ICToften have a clearer idea about
what makes our society tick than wewith more means but
less curiosityhave about theirs.
6.8 Whatever the justification may be, such blundering
is a sure sign that domestic policy-makers at home have ceased
to think that the way we are seen abroad should influence our
conduct at home. So that adds another dimension to the question
posed in your inquiry: how do we get the rest of Whitehall to
empathise with the FCO in its task of projecting British values,
protecting and promoting British security and prosperity and the
welfare of our citizens? EU membership has immeasurably improved
domestic departments' awareness of the European dimension. But
there is still the rest of the world to worry about. Throwing
our weight around works less and less: our ability to engage with
othersmeaning being ready sometimes to concede thingsand
persuade, influence and negotiate depends on our example, our
resolve and our adherence to the rules of international institutions
we value, and to international law we domesticate as our own.
25 November 2010
8 Persona non grata. Back
Not published. Back