36.Whatever format the UK and the EU agree for foreign policy, defence and security co-operation, UK diplomats in Europe will face a more challenging environment after Brexit. Currently, UK ministers and officials engage with the EU and the EU27 at all levels because they are embedded in policy-making in Brussels. This level of automatic contact between UK ministers and officials and their EU and Member State counterparts will not continue in the same way after Brexit. The FCO may therefore need to replicate those interactions bilaterally, both to influence outcomes in the capitals before decisions are made at the EU level and to ensure that bilateral relations with the EU27 do not suffer as a result of reduced contact in Brussels. As Thomas Raines and Professor Whitman wrote in their submission, “[m]embership of the EU has provided the UK with significant efficiencies in enabling it to address a wide range of policy issues via a multilateral format with 27 other European countries”. They concluded that the UK will therefore “need to broaden and deepen its bilateral links with the 27 member states” after Brexit.
37.The evidence we received suggests that the FCO will have to devote more resources than it currently deploys in both Brussels and the EU27 capitals, because the two are interdependent. The complexity of the EU’s policy-making process will require the UK to adopt a joined-up approach, with Posts working together to ensure the UK’s voice is heard both in the Brussels-based institutions and in the Member State capitals before key decisions are made. Such an approach will need to be underpinned by a broad, deep and long-term vision for UK diplomacy in Europe after Brexit. As Lord Ricketts told us:
One key thing that will be necessary after we leave is that we reinforce our effort in the capitals [ … ] because the FCO is now very, very thinly stretched across the EU capitals. We have got away with it partly because we have been able to do the work in Brussels in the Committees. When we are no longer in the Committees, we need to reinforce in the other 27.
Similarly, in her submission, Professor Karen Smith from the London School of Economics wrote that “The UK will need to invest considerably in diplomatic resources that are necessary to try to shape EU decisions from outside the decision-making process, both in Brussels and in national capitals”.
38.The evidence we received suggested that, if FCO resources remain roughly at current levels, some bilateral relationships may need to be prioritised over others. For example, Lord Ricketts pointed to the importance of UK-France relations, particularly in terms of bilateral defence co-operation under the 2010 Lancaster House Defence Co-operation Treaty:
We are the two [European] countries who are most active in the world, who have the most effective armed forces, who see the threats in much the same way. So the bilateral defence co-operation between Britain and France ought to become even more important after Brexit as a supplement or complement to [the] EU global strategy. To my mind, it is really important that we reinforce what we have achieved so far under this Lancaster House process to show that Britain and France are still two global countries with common, shared interests.
Similarly, Dr Drent said that the Lancaster House Treaty “is unprecedented in its scope and scale” and she predicted that, after Brexit, the UK and France will “still be able to find each other because they have a similar demand and outlook”.
39.In their written submission, Thomas Raines and Professor Whitman said that bilateral relations with France and Germany—and the triangulation of relations between London, Paris and Berlin—will be an essential part of UK diplomacy in Europe after Brexit. Similarly, James Rogers singled out France and Germany in particular and argued that the UK needed a strong diplomatic presence in each, both in order to understand and influence their relationships with the EU and to engage each of them on areas of bilateral interest.
40.The Foreign Secretary and the PUS told us that the Department’s role is to provide a platform for the whole of Her Majesty’s Government overseas. The Foreign Secretary said that, in general, the FCO “provides a platform” for as many as 29 Government departments and agencies but that “everybody on those platforms understands that it is the FCO that is responsible for the engagement with our domestic hosts”. However, the PUS told us that there was room for improvement in this regard, particularly as Brexit approaches:
The Foreign Office is a strong institution, but there are some important ways in which it needs to change as we contemplate the task ahead. One is that we need to be the go-to Department for everything to do with overseas. Over the last period, our international policy has become more fragmented: with the creation of DFID, DIT and DExEU, there are now multiple players in international policy. After we leave the European Union, it all needs to be more joined up, and the Foreign Office should lead that.
Sir Simon went on to say that “there needs to be an overall foreign policy of this country, and having separate policies in different parts of Whitehall means that the overall effect is less than it could and should be”.
41.The Foreign Secretary told us that the FCO plays an “important role in making sure that we help our partners to understand what we want to achieve” in Brexit negotiations. The PUS said that “The FCO is not leading on Brexit, but we do do Brexit” and that the FCO had lead responsibility in negotiations on the Overseas Territories; sanctions; third-country agreements; and the CFSP. The Minister for Europe told us that he was not involved in negotiations and that his focus was on bilateral relations. He also said that DExEU was doing most of the work on Brexit but that the FCO “will, in our bilateral engagement with all the 27, reinforce the [UK’s] stated and open positions”. He concluded that “most of what we are doing is not Brexit. In a way, that is the whole point: we have the whole rest of the world as well”.
42.During this inquiry, we received mixed messages from the Foreign Secretary, the Minister for Europe, and the FCO Permanent Under Secretary. On the one hand, we were told that the FCO was not “doing Brexit” and it was focussing its attention on the capitals of the EU27. However, we were also told that the FCO had a crucial role to play in Brexit and that it was leading on negotiations on CFSP/CSDP and on other issues such as Gibraltar and sanctions. While the FCO said that it provided a platform for HMG in Europe, including the Department for Exiting the EU, it is unclear what this means in practice.
43.We welcome the Government’s pledge that the UK will be more active than ever on the world stage after Brexit. However, we believe that close relations with our friends and allies in Europe, with whom we share values and interests, must be a necessary element of the Government’s vision for a ‘Global Britain’. We therefore recommend that the FCO publishes a paper outlining the overall goals and the specific priorities of UK foreign policy in Europe after Brexit. This should be published before the Western Balkans Summit in London in July 2018, so that the Government can use that occasion to assure the UK’s friends and partners across Europe that the UK will remain a cornerstone of European foreign policy and defence.
44.The resources the FCO allocates to its European network are crucial to its ability to implement a coherent diplomatic strategy in Europe after Brexit. For several years prior to Brexit, however, the FCO moved resources away from Europe. Lord Hague told us that, when he was Foreign Secretary (2010–2014), he “oversaw what we called the network shift where we moved many diplomatic posts east and south in the world” and that “[q]uite a lot of that capacity came out of individual nations in the EU”.
45.Lord Hague pointed out that the FCO “did not have Brexit in mind” when these changes were made but he said that that “needs some revision now”. Lord Ricketts compared Paris, where the FCO had “substantial staff”, to “some of the smaller capitals”, where there might be “two UK-based diplomats and the capacity to engage across the spectrum is very much less”. He concluded that in “EU capitals, when the load falls on them to lobby for things that used to be done in Brussels, an absolute minimum of five or six UK-based staff would be necessary to cover that spectrum”.
46.In their written submission, Professor Anand Menon and Alan Wager from the UK in a Changing Europe programme said that the FCO needed to reverse “the trend towards the downsizing of the European network” and that”[t]his means a significant increase in resources for diplomatic efforts at a bilateral level, as well as maintaining links with the EU institutions”. Menon and Wager analysed the number of UK-based staff in Posts in the EU27 and showed that, in all but one, the number of UK-based staff declined between 2006 and 2017, in some cases considerably. Overall, 486 UK-based staff were deployed in the EU27 capitals in 2006, and 220 in 2017. Professor Menon and Mr Wager also stated that the FCO particularly needed to improve its ability to recruit and retain Research Analysts with specialist knowledge of the EU27, if necessary by increasing their pay to compare with similar roles in academia.
47.Although we heard evidence from a range of FCO sources about additional UK staff deployed in the European network since the Brexit referendum, it remains unclear exactly how many additional staff have been or will be recruited, how many have been or will be redeployed from elsewhere, and where they have or will be redeployed from.
48.When the Foreign Secretary appeared before us on 1 November, he said that to “take account of Brexit and our priorities there, we are beefing up our bilateral diplomacy with our European friends, deploying 50 more diplomats with other EU members”. He framed this specifically in terms of prioritising bilateral relations with the EU27, in contrast to the FCO’s previous focus on Brussels:
We tended to put all our eggs in the Brussels basket. We tended to think that a lot of bilateral diplomacy, particularly with very important partners such as France and Germany, could be conducted through that prism and optic. The effect was even more deleterious perhaps with smaller EU countries, where we thought, ‘Oh well, we’ll see them at the FAC or at the Council meeting in Brussels; we don’t necessarily need to engage in their capitals in the way that we might.’ That is why we are putting in another 50 staff [ … ] this, I think, will give us the presence and the throw weight we need in those other European capitals, particularly ones that have felt a bit neglected
49.On 15 November, the PUS confirmed that 50 UK-based staff had been moved to Posts in the EU, including UKRep, as a “short term measure” for Brexit negotiations, though not all of them had yet been deployed. He also said that that the FCO was “in very advanced conversations with the Treasury” about recruiting “over 100 extra people temporarily for the task in hand”. However, on 28 November, the Minister for Europe and senior FCO officials appeared unsure if those additional 100 UK-based staff included the 50 already recruited. The Minister subsequently clarified in writing that, as well as the 50 additional UK-based staff recruited since the referendum, the FCO was “planning to create over 100 additional new roles in London and our Europe network to support EU Exit work”.
50.On 15 November, the PUS told us that additional staff had been recruited for posts in the EU. However, on 28 November the Europe Director told us that this additional resource was “not just for the Europe network but to deal with the implications of Brexit on sanctions, on consular, on work across the board”. She also told us that the initial 50 would be deployed across 33 Posts in Europe, including six outside the EU, and that they would “support our Embassies’ efforts to understand and influence our European partners’ positions on key exit issues [and] help identify and develop new opportunities for bilateral cooperation”. Sir Alan said that this additional deployment had been funded through “staff savings in Asia Pacific, South Asia and Afghanistan, Americas and Africa”.
51.More than 18 months after the referendum, the FCO has not yet put in place sufficient additional resources in its European network to manage the effects of Brexit. In the long-term, the FCO has been underfunded. Since 2010, moreover, it has deprioritised its European network in favour of its Asian network. This is no longer appropriate but as we aspire to a global role, both need extra resources. The FCO is now too thinly stretched in Europe at a time when it has a vital role to play in transmitting information to the UK Government, influencing the EU27 and delivering the message that the UK is leaving the EU, but not leaving Europe. By diverting FCO resources from other regions, and from Asia in particular, the UK’s influence outside Europe risks being undermined just as the UK will be relying more on relations with countries from these areas post-Brexit.
52.The FCO will need to work harder in the EU27 capitals after Brexit but we are not satisfied that it has sufficient resources to do so. We welcome the FCO’s decision to deploy an additional 50 UK-based staff in Europe, but it has taken too long to deploy them. Moreover, it remains unclear what specific roles they will play. It is also unclear what further steps the FCO is taking to ensure that its European network can cope with the increased demands of maintaining effective diplomatic relationships with the EU27, without the level of automatic and regular access to the EU27 governments that came with EU membership.
53.The FCO must increase its diplomatic presence in EU27 capitals, focussing on Berlin and Paris, and prioritising political and economic staff and Research Analysts. In its response to this Report, the FCO should clarify where the 50 additional staff already recruited have come from; where they have been deployed; what they are doing; what training they received before being deployed; and how and when the FCO will measure their impact. Without that information, it is difficult to see how these are truly additional staff.
54.The FCO should commit to deploying the additional 100 UK-based staff that the Permanent Under Secretary mentioned when he appeared before this Committee. In its response to this Report, the FCO should provide us with a timeline for this additional deployment and set out how it will evaluate its overall impact. If these additional staff are recruited temporarily, as the PUS suggested, the FCO should provide us with a detailed explanation as to why they will not be needed permanently.
55.If it has not done so already, the FCO should create a dedicated cadre of UK-based staff with a deep understanding of the EU institutions and the domestic politics and dynamics of its Member States and whose careers are anchored in the EU and its Member States. This could be modelled on the EECADRE, which was launched in 2015 and focuses on Eastern Europe and Central Asia. The FCO should also consider strengthening the practitioner and expert level training on the EU and its Member States that it provides in its Diplomatic Academy.
56.The evidence we received suggested that the UK’s mission to the EU will need to serve as a key hub for UK diplomacy in Europe after Brexit. For example, Lord Ricketts said:
In Brussels we are going to need, if not exactly the same resources we have now, then a large, well-staffed, well-resourced mission that can work with the various nations in Brussels in the run-up to decisions being taken and after. It will no doubt work in the European Parliament as well, so that, like other non-EU countries—such as Norway, Canada, Australia and many others—we are in the lobbying process in Brussels, and we will know very well how that works. In capitals upstream of discussions in Brussels, it will also need to be in not just foreign ministries, but right across governments [ … ] It has to be on both those prongs.
57.The importance Lord Ricketts attached to the mission in Brussels was echoed in much of the written evidence we received. Professor Karen Smith said:
Trying to shape EU decisions is resource-intensive: the third country has to invest a lot in diplomacy, with people on the ground in Brussels trying to keep track not only of the substance of foreign policy discussions, but where foreign policy discussions are taking place (in which committee, forum, venue, and so on) and who the most important players are.
58.The Foreign Secretary told us that the FCO has “no plans, as far as I understand it, at the moment to increase the permanent representation” in Brussels. The Minister for Europe told us that UKRep “will need to be a significant conduit or base”. We asked the Minister if the UK’s post-Brexit representation in Brussels might look like the UK Embassy in Washington DC, with a core FCO staff supplemented by other Departments and Agencies, or if it would mimic the EU structures, with the bilateral focus in the EU27 capitals. He told us that it will likely be both, but that the idea of having a UK Minister Resident in Brussels has not been considered. The FCO’s Europe Director said that:
We are of course looking at what third countries do in Brussels and how their representations or missions there are staffed. Much of it depends on the type of partnership we have with the European Union [ … ] assuming that there will still be some kinds of meetings where the EU and the UK are present. We are looking at that.
59.It is vital that the UK maintains a significant diplomatic presence in Brussels. The task of representing the UK’s interests and exercising influence in the EU institutions will be more difficult when the UK is a third country. Considering the time it took the FCO to enhance its presence in Europe after the Brexit referendum, plans need to be put in place now for the UK’s representation in Brussels after Brexit.
60.In its response to this Report, the FCO should provide us with the details of its recent analysis of third countries’ missions to the EU. Using this evidence, the FCO should set out a detailed plan for what the UK’s mission to the EU will look like after Brexit. Within this, the FCO should consider creating a dedicated Minister for Europe, who would focus solely on the UK’s relationship with the EU and its Member States, and would be resident in Brussels, with lead responsibility for the FCO’s European network.
42 Mr Thomas Raines and Professor Richard Whitman () para 28
44 Professor Karen E Smith () para 2
46 Dr Nicholas Wright () para 4
47 Mr James Rogers () para 4(i), 4(ii)
48 , 1 November 2017, Q5
49 , 15 November 2017, Q42
50 , 15 November 2017, Q45
51 , 1 November 2017, Q6
52 , 15 November 2017, Q49, Q50
54 Q188 [Sir Alan Duncan]
55 Q19 [Lord Hague]
56 Q19 [Lord Hague]
57 Q7, Q8
58 Professor Anand Menon and Mr Alan Wager () paras 5, 14
59 Professor Anand Menon and Mr Alan Wager () table 1
60 Professor Anand Menon and Mr Alan Wager () paras 7, 9, 11
61 , 1 November 2017, Q2
62 , 1 November 2017, Q4
63 , 15 November 2017, Q89
64 , 15 November 2017, Q24
66 Letter to the Committee from Sir Alan Duncan, 13 December 2017 ()
67 Q177 [Caroline Wilson]
68 Letter to the Committee from Sir Alan Duncan, 13 December 2017 (). The additional 50 slots will be in: Athens, Belgrade, Berlin, Berne, Bratislava, Brussels, Bucharest, Budapest, Copenhagen, Dublin, Helsinki, Istanbul, Lisbon, Ljubljana, Luxembourg, Madrid, Oslo, Paris, Prague, Riga, Rome, Skopje, Sofia, Stockholm, Tallinn, The Hague, Tirana, Valletta, Vienna, Vilnius, Warsaw, Zagreb, and UK Representative in Brussels
69 Q28 [Lord Ricketts]
70 Professor Karen E Smith () para 12. See also: Professor Anand Menon and Mr Alan Wager () para 14; Dr Nicholas Wright () para 8(ii); Mr James Rogers () para 6
71 , 1 November 2017, Q15
72 Q200, Q202
73 Q201 [Caroline Wilson]
29 January 2018