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Parliamentary Report on the Role of the Foreign Office in Government

May 13, 2011

Over the last few months the Foreign Affairs Select Committee has been conducting an investigation of the role of the Foreign Office.  They’ve now issued their report and supporting evidence here.  There’s a huge amount of material looking at the way that changes in foreign policy environment, changes in the government organization and technology have affected the FCO.  The actual conclusions don’t seem too radical compared with some of the ideas put forward by witnesses.  The report will be of interest to anyone looking at the current state of foreign affairs ministries and future prospects.  I’ll write more about this once I’ve had a chance to digest it.

Charles Crawford picks out a priceless quote from Sir Jeremy Greenstock’s evidence:

In terms of diplomacy – as in observing, analysing, reporting, negotiating and communicating with other Governments – I am still to be convinced that there is a Government less incompetent than the British one in these fields.

Q165 Mike Gapes: Less incompetent?

Sir Jeremy Greenstock: Less incompetent. I formed the view over my career that all Governments are incompetent in one way or another. Where you have a civil service or a diplomatic service that minimises the mistakes; that can handle complex issues; and that can deal with a number of balls in the air at any one time, you have a comparative advantage against what is out there on the field of competition.

Of course, some of the competition are allies and partners, but you would be surprised – I will name no names – how incompetent very close and admirable allies could be on particular cases. The British would come in, mop up, do the drafting, do the communication with other Governments and try to make the most of the situation. I think we’re very good at that…

Makes me proud to be British

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