William Hague announces new British Commonwealth embassies to head off expanding European diplomatic network
By Matthew Barrett
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Eurosceptics don't always have cause to celebrate. The story likely to annoy the Conservative backbenches at the moment is the proposed BAE/EADS merger, to which David Cameron appears to have consented (£), which Eurosceptics rightly fear will stop Britain from having a world class independent defence industry, and instead empower the French and Germans.
William Hague has good - exciting - news for those who despair. Tomorrow, he will announce the launch of a network of new embassies across the world which will be shared between British Commonwealth nations, and which will seek to head off the creeping influence of European Union diplomats.
The Foreign Secretary is in Canada, where he will sign a diplomatic agreement to open joint embassies with that country, and he also hopes Australia and New Zealand will join the initiative. It's no surprise Canada should be our closest diplomatic ally: Prime Minister Stephen Harper has defended and protected the motherland's interests before - over the Falklands for instance.
Mr Harper has a proud record of being Israel's strongest defender at the United Nations, so he will be entirely aware of the pernicious affect international bodies can have. He will, I have no doubt, share Mr Hague's suspicions about the European Union's fast-expanding diplomatic programme, the European External Action Service, which is setting up offices in America and elsewhere, and seeks to sideline Britain's position as a major diplomatic power.
"As David Cameron said when addressing the Canadian parliament last year, “We are two nations, but under one Queen and united by one set of values.” We have stood shoulder to shoulder from the great wars of the last century to fighting terrorists in Afghanistan and supporting Arab Spring nations like Libya and Syria. We are first cousins. So it is natural that we look to link up our embassies with Canada’s in places where that suits both countries. It will give us a bigger reach abroad for our businesses and people for less cost."
United by monarchy, history, language, heritage and political tradition, we have much more in common with, say, a Canberran or a Torontonian than we do with an Athenian or a Roman. We are already diplomatically close, but this move by Mr Hague to extend our interests is a very welcome renewal of our four countries' friendship. The Commonwealth was neglected under Labour, who rejected the old English-speaking countries, and embraced "forward-looking" Europeans. The Coalition has started correcting this.
Update 11.30am: My attention is drawn to the Parliamentary contribution of Andrew Percy MP (Brigg and Goole), who first suggested embassy sharing with Canada almost a year ago:
"I want to press the Minister on the Government’s vision for the future of the Commonwealth. I have mentioned sharing resources. Discussions have taken place between other Commonwealth countries—perhaps we have been involved in some of them—about this country’s massive network of overseas missions and foreign embassies. The UK alone has, I think, more than 300 foreign missions. Canada, which is a country with which I am acquainted, has more than 260. That massive international Commonwealth network offers us huge potential, particularly at a time of fiscal restraint, when we are making tough decisions about our overseas missions. In this country, we do not necessarily always get the sense of the importance of the Commonwealth that we get when we visit other Commonwealth countries. A Canadian passport states, as clear as day, that if the passport holder needs help overseas they should head to a Canadian embassy or, if none exists, to a British embassy. There is the potential for us to share some of our resources for foreign missions with like-minded nations that are also making tough fiscal decisions."