By Lucy Phillips, on 7 April 2014
By Alice Vincent
On 19 March, Alice Vincent, head of events at IPPR, took 18 SPP students on a visit to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO). Martin Garrett, Research Analyst in the Americas Directorate and former diplomat at the FCO, welcomed us to their impressive Commonwealth Offices. Sitting on chairs from the original East India Company from the 18th Century, Martin gave us a fascinating talk about the “Development of Diplomacy.” He spoke of a number of interesting facts: The oldest representatives that could be termed as diplomatic envoys were from the Holy See, although the French boast the oldest Foreign Ministry; Charles James Fox was the first British Foreign Minister in 1783. Bringing us back to the present day, he explained there are currently around 4000-6000 people at any one time representing British interests overseas, and the types of activities that embassies engage in has ballooned.
David Quarrey, Director for the Near East and North Africa Directorate, joined us for an informal Q&A session. Mr. Quarrey is the FCO’s most senior advisor on Middle East policy. Previously, he has worked as private secretary to Prime Minister Tony Blair, and headed up the UK Mission to the United Nations Security Council in New York. The Q&A session covered topics ranging from counterterrorism as a British foreign policy priority in the MENA region, to how British energy dependency in the Middle East shapes its foreign policy decisions.
He also tackled the question of whether Britain’s business interests clash with its democratic values and human rights principles, a particularly interesting topic in light of the recent event hosted by UCL’s Institute of Global Governance on “business ethics, supply chains and a living wage.”
British foreign policy in Syria was also extensively discussed – the necessity of having a united international voice, in particular from the Security Council, was highlighted as an important priority. We noted that such unity could become even more difficult in light of Russia’s recent isolating behaviour in the Crimea. Overall it was agreed that foreign policy is always more successful when support is directed at principles and processes, rather than personalities and parties.
To conclude our afternoon, Martin Garrett took us on a historic tour around the FCO. We saw some of the impressive staircases and hallways, and we met Chancellor George Osborne’s cat ‘Freya’ who has her own Wikipedia page, and is rumored to be a spy. Whilst meeting Freya the cat might have been the icing on the cake, seeing Foreign Secretary William Hague pass by, really added the cherry.