Foreign Affairs CommitteeWritten evidence from Sir Peter Marshall KCMG , CVO

I hope you will permit me, as someone who has followed with great enthusiasm the work of the Committee, to express to you my delight at your decision to launch this inquiry into The future of the European Union: UK Government policy.

First, its timing: “by conducting an inquiry at this stage, we hope to contribute to public debate by airing some of the options that might be available to UK policy-makers”. That is of particular relevance in the light of the inquiry into the Lisbon Treaty undertaken by the previous Committee, and of their clear dissatisfaction at the lateness of the stage at which they were able to express an opinion. Anyone familiar with the work of the Select Committees readily understands their key importance, not only in the service which they render directly to the House of Commons, but also more widely in enlightening and shaping public opinion in matters of great weight and complexity. Timing is of the essence.

Secondly, the background. You call attention to “a widespread sense that the Eurozone crisis and the December 2011 European Council have raised fundamental questions about the future of the EU and the UK’s place in it”. The causes of the disquiet now so generally felt are manifold. They also go back a long way: 2013 will mark the 40th anniversary of UK accession to the EEC, an appropriate juncture at which to make a general assessment. More fundamentally, 2014 will be the poignant centenary of the outbreak of the Great War, with all its disastrous consequences. It cannot fail to sharpen memories of the upheavals and the suffering endured by the peoples of Europe during so much of the twentieth century, and cast fresh inquiring light on the relevance to our own day of the pressures which ensued for European integration. It is a sombre thought that disaffection in a minor part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire led to much of Europe going up in flames. It is a no less sombre thought that Greece, a mere 2% of the Eurozone GDP, has the G8 by the ears.

Thirdly, while attention to the historical perspective does not reduce their urgency, it would nonetheless suggest that the four questions on which in particular, the Announcement notes, evidence would be welcome represent in a very real sense the tip of the iceberg. That helps to explain the extraordinary way in which the Eurozone crisis has developed, or has been allowed to develop. Such have been the scale and rapidity of the crisis, any answer to the four questions must inevitably involve a measure of second-guessing of governments or even of electorates.

Fourthly, you speak, Mr Chairman, for the vast majority of our compatriots in stating that you were starting from the assumption that the UK should and will remain an EU Member. That is a broad judgement, not a narrow one. To approach the question of member ship of the EU as if it was only a matter of whether we should, or should not, be part of the Brussels institutions, or of whether we should, or should not, acquiesce in any particular amendment of them, is to adopt an essentially two-dimensional approach to a three-dimensional problem. There is more to our stake in Europe than the EU. There is likewise far more to the EU than l’acquis communautaire.

Fifthly, by virtue of their mandate, and of the skilled and imaginative way in which they are discharging it, the Committee under your leadership have acquired a unique understanding of the interplay between ends, ways and means in British diplomacy, and of the broad political and social context, both national and international, which modern world wide interdependence demands of the conduct of foreign policy. These are factors which have in the past too often been ignored or underestimated in the conduct of our European policy.

These considerations prompt the submission to you of two lines of thought. First, while concentration on the policy options that might be available to UK policy-makers has great practical value, are the Committee not ideally placed at the same time to contribute to public debate on the wider issues involved in the future of the EU and Britain’s place in it?

Secondly, could that contribution with advantage extend not only to the substance of our relations with our European partners, but also to the management of them? It is clear that the over-polarised and divisive debate on the issues which has largely prevailed in this country has weakened the influence which we can exert in Europe. Why is it, we should ask ourselves, that we have so far failed to achieve in our dealings with our European partners the same type of broad ad hoc, ex post/ex ante, de facto/de jure consensus which we have managed in virtually every other major aspect of our international involvement?

These lines of thought in their turn point to a yet more basic consideration. We may have reached a stage in the debate on our European involvement at which it is appropriate to seek the expert impartial assessment and advice which only an authoritative high level body set up exclusively for that purpose, and with adequate resources and time at its disposal, is in a position to furnish?

A study of the appointment over the years of Royal Commissions in the UK and elsewhere in the Commonwealth suggests that the criteria for the utilisation of this eminent vehicle are less than clear cut. The principal factor seems to be the perception that a particular situation requires the response that only a body of the consequence of a Royal Commission can provide, or help to provide. The present state of our relations with our European Partners can be a case in point. The publication of the findings of a Royal Commission during the lifetime of this Parliament would be an enormous help in the next general election.

I am acutely aware that, for all the effort to make it both brief and self-contained, a submission of this kind to the Committee cannot but rest on a wide and detailed analysis of the relevant factors, which of necessity would be of a length putting it beyond the normal compass. I have therefore offered to the most admirable staff of the Committee a memorandum, prepared in the first instance for my fellow members of the FCO Association, that is to say, the Diplomatic Service alumni, addressing the issues in greater detail. A copy of this memorandum is enclosed with this letter.

21 May 2012


Memorandum for the FCO Association on the inquiry launched by the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee into the future of the European Union: UK Government policy

As our Chairman noted in his report to the AGM, the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee have launched an inquiry into the future of the European Union and UK government policy. The brief text of the Select Committee Announcement, dated 28 March 2012, repays close attention. The timing is significant. The Committee’s hope is that by conducting an inquiry at this stage they may be able “to contribute to public debate by airing some of the options that might be available to UK policy-makers”.

The Committee have invited the submission of written evidence by 22 May. Although time is limited, the case is a strong one for responses where possible from members of the Association. But that of course is by no means the end of the matter. The subject as a whole is on-going. It is as massive as it is complex. Boredom will not be a problem in the foreseeable future. We are under the ancient Chinese curse “may you live in interesting times”.

The background, as it would seem to affect the membership of the Association in particular, is explored in this memorandum under three headings: Opportunity; Context; and the Image of the Diplomatic Service and its Alumni.

I. Opportunity

(a) One of the many respects in which we are fortunate indeed to have William Hague as Foreign Secretary is that he is the first holder of that office to make a strong positive point about the value of the alumni. The strong historical sense which pervades his speeches is not only greatly reassuring in itself, but also gives added weight to the practical steps, in pursuit of clearly articulated objectives and priorities, which he outlines in them. He and his Ministerial colleagues are a team for which anyone who values the work of the Diplomatic Service should be profoundly grateful. Never before has a chairman of the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee subsequently become an FCO Minister, as is the case with David Howell.

(b) The present Foreign Affairs Committee is likewise unprecedented in its expert, detailed and supportive scrutiny of the work of the Diplomatic Service in the pursuit of UK international priorities, which are advisedly extensive, despite the financial exigencies which are likely to beset us for years to come. The Committee’s work testifies to a precious ability to look simultaneously at the ends, ways and means of diplomacy in the broad political and social context, both national and international, which world interdependence demands. We should be much encouraged that the Committee set store by the experience and the opinions of the alumni, and have promised to let the Association know about future inquiries.

(c) Past experience of discussion of the UK role in the EU suggest that it can easily generate more heat than light. However after years of polarisation and a dialogue virtually of the deaf, there is a great deal of constructive thinking and discussion. I make no apology for referring in particular to the recent seminar at Europe House, organised by Civitatis International, on the theme “The Future of Europe: towards the European Dream?”, which I had the honour of chairing. The contributions of the four main speakers—Edward Mortimer, Daniel Ottolenghi, Maurice Fraser and Christopher Coker—taken individually and collectively, were outstanding. Still less do I apologise for drawing attention to the “Eurogazing” missives circulated to members of the Wyndham Place Charlemagne Trust by its indefatigable Secretary, Win Burton. All in all, one is conscious of a hint of consensus in the air. It should be inhaled deeply.

II. Context: (i) Political and Diplomatic

(a) In the announcement of the inquiry, the Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, Richard Ottaway, observed that “there is a widespread sense that the Eurozone crisis and the December 2011 European Council have raised fundamental questions about the EU and the UK’s place in it”. That observation becomes more pertinent day by day.

(b) Next year we shall mark the fortieth anniversary of UK accession to the EEC. The anniversary will stimulate much further analysis. 2014 will be the centenary of the outbreak of the Great War, which will prompt even more profound questions about our European involvement. Have Sir Edward Grey’s lamps, which went out all over Europe in 1914, been lit again? What would Eyre Crowe have to say now for our guidance? It is a sobering thought that disaffection in a minor part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire led to much of Europe going up in flames. Today Greece, which accounts for some 2% of Eurozone GDP, has the G8 by the ears. There must be better ways of running the railroad.

(c) In the meantime let us go back 50 years. On 5 December 1962, in a speech at West Point, Dean Acheson waspishly remarked that “Britain had lost an Empire and not yet found a role”. His comment was ill-received in this country at the time, not least because it was uncomfortably near the truth. There seemed to be no let-up in our post-war adversities. The Plowden Committee to examine our future overseas representation had just been appointed. Our standing aside from the EEC and the creation of EFTA meant that Europe could be said literally to be at Sixes and Sevens. De Gaulle’s veto of our first application to join the EEC was only a month away.

(d) Matters are somewhat better now. We have a perception, both realistic and responsible, of the scale and nature of our international involvement in a world of growing interdependence, or, to put it more picturesquely, in the Global Village. Our perception of course has its continuities with the past. But it is in the main very different from our prevailing notions of a century ago.

(e) The best measure in the twenty-first century of this transformation is to be found in the ground-breaking White Paper on UK international priorities published by Jack Straw, one of our patrons, during his Foreign Secretaryship, in December 2003 (in which our present Permanent Under-Secretary had a noteworthy part) and its sequel in March 2006. Detailed study of both these wide-ranging texts continues to be rewarding. The policy of the Coalition, comprehensively outlined in 2010, has a good deal in common with them. The same overall approach is convincingly endorsed in the lecture delivered at Ditchley last year by Sir John Major, another of our patrons. In all these documents our relations with our European partners are seen as integral to our international involvement as a whole, and not as some external, unwelcome, yet overriding, priority.

(f) The FAC Chairman speaks for the overwhelming majority of our compatriots in stating that he was “starting from the assumption that the UK should and will remain an EU member”. Exactly what this implies must be approached from a number of different standpoints. It certainly does not suggest that there can or should be a single view on the major issues of the day The Committee’s announcement lists at the outset four burning questions on which in particular evidence would be welcome. The rapidity and invasiveness of developments even since 28 March are such that any reply to these questions could not but be highly speculative, and require a measure of second-guessing of governments, or even of electorates. No two members of our association would be likely to come up with exactly the same answers. The idea of a collective Association view is fanciful.

(g) We need surely to give more attention to the shortcomings of discussion in this country of European issues. Historians surveying our record on the fortieth anniversary of our accession to the EEC are unlikely to shower us with compliments on our handling of business. They would be bound to draw attention instead to the divisiveness, the sterility even, of much of the debate, when the commonality of interest is so great and so promising. Sir Edward Heath said at the outset that he would not wish to take Britain into the EEC without the “full-hearted consent of the British parliament and people”. He soon changed his tune, averring that a single vote was enough.

(h) The requirement has in reality always been to nurture an approach to the EU embodying the same ad hoc, de facto/de jure, ex post/ex ante broad consensus we have achieved in almost every other major aspect of our international involvement. Within such a compass, there will inevitably be considerable differences of analysis and a plethora of prescriptions. Once again, the idea of a single view on such a massive array of interrelated topics is fanciful. It is however the overall consensus which is crucial. Without it, our impact on European counsels is much more limited. With it, we can be more confident that what we have to say will receive greater attention. Failure so far to achieve such a consensus has cost us dear.

III. Context: (ii) Public and Social

(a) Reaching a consensus on how best to involve ourselves in the EU is not the elitist preserve of policy-makers. Public opinion and the public mood are becoming an increasingly important factor in virtually every aspect of foreign policy-making. Yet failure to carry people with you, and indeed the deliberate riding roughshod over the views of voters and what are firmly seen as their democratic rights, have in recent years been the besetting sins of the EU.

(b) In the 21st century we are hearing more than ever before about national solidarity, the maintenance of which is indispensable for security as well as prosperity. There is increased willingness to examine our EU policy, not only in the context of Britain’s international involvement generally, but also in the light of the necessity of fostering national values and the social cohesion essential to the discharge of our international responsibilities. It is a far cry from classical diplomacy.

(c) In EU terminology this is a matter of l’esprit communautaire in dialogue with l’ acquis communautaire. We have heard little or nothing in recent years about the former: the latter, principally in the shape of a raft of treaties and their ensuing regulatory moves—the Single European Act, followed by the Treaties of Maastricht, of Amsterdam, of Nice, of Lisbon and the current fiscal compact—has squeezed it out. That is the antithesis of the creation step-by-step of a de facto solidarity envisaged by Schuman in the 1950 Declaration.

(d) EU Heads of Government fully recognised the importance of securing public support or acquiescence for this fuite en avant, inspired and engineered by Jacques Delors in his long tenure of the office of President of the European Commission.

(e) The European Council Declarations of Nice (December 2000) and Laeken (January 2002), on the eve of major enlargement to the East, followed up by the Declaration of Berlin on the occasion of the 50 anniversary of the signature of the Treaty of Rome (March 2007), dwelt on the twin necessities of fulfilling our international responsibilities abroad and of bringing the EU institutions nearer the people at home. The outcome is distressingly different. Inward-looking institution-mongering, eventually enshrined in the Lisbon treaty, itself stubbornly adhering to the precepts of the Constitutional Treaty spectacularly rejected by the voters of France and the Netherlands, has absorbed an inordinate amount of time and attention. The Eurozone is now, and is likely for some time to come to remain, the major headache of the international financial and business community. The EU institutions, very largely by their own fault, have never been further than they now are from the public in the member countries.

(f) Developing within the UK a broad ad hoc, de facto/de jure, ex post/ex ante national consensus on EU matters will be a mighty multi-faceted task. But we have a no less mighty weapon available to help meet it in the shape of the richness of our heritage, of our creativity, of our adaptability and of our diversity. We are a happy breed. In recent years we have had limited success in expressing that noble truth in our European involvement.

(g) Co-operation among the major faiths has an important part to play in this quest, especially as regards the role of Christianity, and historically, of Christendom. On 18 February the Archbishop of Canterbury brought together at Lambeth Palace representatives of the nine major faiths on the occasion of a visit by The Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh as part of the Diamond Jubilee celebrations. As Dr Rowan Williams observed,

it was an unprecedented gathering here within these walls, but it was one which certainly revealed the degree to which our society has changed quite radically in terms of its religious composition, just within the last 60 years. It was an event which highlighted both the religious diversity of our society and the willingness to integrate, represented by the elements within that diversity.

The text of The Queen’s short address to the gathering is highly satisfying food for thought.

(h) In November, 2009, Notre Europe, a think-tank of which Jacques Delors is the Founding President, issued a Declaration which can be regarded as an authoritative orthodox formulation of the post-Lisbon mission of the EU in the 21st century. It asserts that “the condition for success is to rediscover … the Community method, a virtuous and dynamic counterpoint between the three institutions responsible for the well-being of the Union and its people”, a triangle formed by the Council, the Parliament and the Commission, each body “newly strengthened … and led by men and women freshly summoned for the task”.

(j) Matters have not worked out that way. The thesis itself is seriously flawed in at least two respects. First, the Declaration makes no mention of the European Court of Justice. The Court’s powers, enhanced by the wide extra discretion conferred on it in the Treaty of Lisbon, constitute probably the greatest stumbling block to the willing public acceptance of the Union’s institutions as a whole.

(k) Second, there is no hint of a popular dimension to the problem. We are concerned not with a virtuous and dynamic triangle, but with an irregular quadrilateral, the fourth side being composed of the people of the Union in numerous configurations, Europe-wide, national, regional and local, and with interests and preoccupations far removed from institutional fine-tuning in Brussels.

(l) In our own country the establishment of the Supreme Court in the old Middlesex Guildhall offers us a lively example of the quadrilateral in what can be called the Allegory of Parliament Square. To the East is the Legislature; to the North, the Executive; to the West, the Judiciary; and to the South, Westminster Abbey. It comprises, in what many people think of as the Parish Church of the Nation, a Royal Peculiar, the Seat of Monarchy, the chief National Shrine, homage to excellence and sacrifice, and a beacon in modern society.

(m) In her message on Accession Day, The Queen expressed the hope that “this Jubilee year will be a time to give thanks for the great advances that have been made since 1952 and to look forward to the future with clear head and warm heart as we join together in our celebrations”. That surely applies as much to our involvement in the EU as to any other aspect of our national life.

IV. The Image of the Diplomatic Service and its Alumni: Three FAC Inquiries

Thirdly, a word about our own concerns as a Diplomatic Service. The Foreign Affairs Committee has, within a relatively short span, launched three related inquiries into policy matters which, though by no means the sole concern to the FCO/Diplomatic Service, are very much in our bailiwick: the first was concerned with the role of the FCO in UK government; the second is considering the role and future of the Commonwealth; the third is the present EU inquiry. They need of course to be looked at synoptically.

(a) Until recently the FCO was not so much getting a bad press on account of its shortcomings as being the subject of concern on account of the difficulties created for it by No 10 and the Treasury. In evidence submitted to the Committee, I listed three in particular of what I described as the “present discontents”: sofa diplomacy in No 10, managerialism and what Douglas Hurd, yet another patron, called “the hollowing out of the FCO”. One of the last recommendations made by the FAC in the previous Parliament was that the new government should “carry out a comprehensive foreign policy-led review of the structures, functions and priorities of the FCO, MOD and DFID”.

(b) I am not aware that the new government responded directly to this recommendation. But William Hague and his ministerial colleagues at once grasped all the main nettles. The discontents were rapidly remedied. A new atmosphere prevailed.

(c) The new Foreign Affairs Committee, for their part, sprang early into action. They immediately launched an inquiry into the Role of the FCO in UK Government. The Committee’s report was published a year ago, actually on the day of our last AGM. The directness of the report is refreshing. Its main conclusions were that there was indeed a significant role for the FCO/Diplomatic Service and that we were significantly underfunded for its adequate fulfilment.

(d) The moment however was hardly propitious for demanding an immediate large increase in the FCO budget. But the question remained whether the FCO/Diplomatic Service had been sufficiently robust in recent years in defending our legitimate interests, or sufficiently comprehensive in the discharge of our responsibilities.

(e) In this context it is relevant to recall the point noted by the previous Foreign Affairs Committee that “among the 30 Member States of the OECD only one other—Germany—has a fully-fledged ministry of international development, with all the others maintaining agencies or departments that in one way or another fall under the authority of the foreign ministry”.

(f) The reasons for this state of affairs may be numerous. But chief among them is undoubtedly the failure of the FCO adequately to understand either the emergence of what was aptly termed “the third world coalition”—the collective actions and the pressures of the countries newly acquiring their independence and eager to join others, similarly desirous of expressing their sovereignty and of securing a “level playing field” internationally—or the ever-widening concept of “development”. The chief consequence in practical terms of this failure is the grotesque discrepancy between the expanded funding lavished on the DFID on the one hand, and the penury visited on the Diplomatic Service on the other.

(g) The second of the three inquiries directly affecting us was launched by the FAC on 8 December. It addresses the role and future of the Commonwealth, and was prompted by what was widely thought of as the disappointing outcome of the biennial Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Perth (Western Australia) last October. The Committee will take its time about reporting, not least because of what may emerge in this Diamond Jubilee Year.

(h) Although they will deservedly commend Ministers for their stance on the Commonwealth putting the “C” back into the FCO, the Committee are likely to be unenthusiastic about the performance as a whole of the FCO over the years. The Commonwealth has been seriously neglected. In one halcyon year—I name no names, nor date no dates—the word “Commonwealth” did not appear in the Annual Departmental Report except in the term “Foreign and Commonwealth Office”.

(j) The third is the EU inquiry, launched on 28 March. The particular context is the outcome of the December EU Council meeting and the consequences of the British “veto”. It must be said that the Committee can hardly ignore the general public perception in this country of the FCO as having been unduly influenced by, and ready to endorse, the actions and ambitions of Brussels. Former members of the Diplomatic Service, especially those who have served in UKREP, have been vociferous in their collective advocacy in particular of the euro and the Lisbon Treaty.


This brief survey of the issues involved in the Foreign Affairs Committee EU inquiry suggests a number of areas in which we as alumni are well placed to make a contribution, individually if not collectively, to the on-going debate. And let us not feel inhibited about discussing these matters among ourselves. How about, for example, a laid-back exchange of views on some low-key question such as “will future historians cast Jacques Delors in the role of Pied Piper of Brussels?”.

Finally, what of the Diplomatic Service itself? Perhaps Hollywood mogul Sam Goldwyn sums up our position: “the last thing I think about is money—pause—before I fall asleep”.

Prepared 10th June 2013