By Ray Fleming

WE are still waiting for the second of William Hague's promised “linked series of four speeches” about Britain's future foreign policy. I wrote in Looking Around a couple of weeks ago about the first of the speeches and quoted what I thought to be an important statement in it: “The world has changed and if we do not change with it, Britain's role is set to decline with all that means for our influence in world affairs, our national security and our economy.” And I asked how the Foreign Secretary intended to fund the resources needed to meet the challenge he so clearly set out. Yesterday The Times carried a report on “the spending axe” due to fall on British embassies: 40 per cent savings overall; several consulates to be closed; more local staff to replace the London-based diplomats and their “generous perks”; an emphasis on emerging economies such as Brazil, China, India and Russia at the cost of the more traditional diplomatic centres.

During the 25 years I worked closely with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office it was under continuous reviews and cuts and has been ever since. Diplomacy cannot be done at a distance. Britain is a veto-holding member of the UN Security Council and as such has a responsibility to be in touch with all continents and countries. The “decline” feared by Mr Hague will come as much from a stripped-down diplomatic service as from the changing world to which he referred.

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