[lg policy] Jeremy Hunt to cast net wider to recruit top diplomats

Harold Schiffman haroldfs at gmail.com
Fri Nov 2 11:21:29 EDT 2018

 Jeremy Hunt to cast net wider to recruit top diplomats

Foreign secretary wants some ambassador roles open to external candidates

Patrick Wintour <https://www.theguardian.com/profile/patrickwintour>
Diplomatic editor

Wed 31 Oct 2018 06.22 EDT First published on Wed 31 Oct 2018 02.00 EDT




[image: Jeremy Hunt (left) with Japan’s foreign minister, Taro Kono, in
Hunt (left) with Japan’s foreign minister, Taro Kono, in September.
Photograph: Behrouz Mehri/AFP/Getty Images

Some of Britain’s top diplomatic jobs are to be opened up to people who are
not civil servants as part of a push to recruit “under-represented groups”,
as the UK revamps and expands its overseas operations, Jeremy Hunt
<https://www.theguardian.com/politics/jeremy-hunt> is to announce.

The initiative will include opening up some ambassador roles to external
candidates, with the foreign secretary due to tell an audience at the
Policy Exchange thinktank: “The strength of our network is its
professionalism, which has given us what I believe is the finest diplomatic
service in the world. But we must never close our eyes to the approaches
and skills of other industries.”

Hunt will also announce a drive to double the number of British diplomats
who can speak a foreign language from 500 to 1,000 as part of a 10-year
plan to reinvigorate UK diplomacy after Brexit.
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In his speech on Wednesday, Hunt will say he wants to project the UK as
“the invisible chain that links the world’s democracies”.

He will say that in the face of a global threat to democracy, the UK must
expand British diplomacy.

Asked whether the move to bring in people from outside the civil service
was a step towards a US-style system that allowed cronyism, Hunt told the
BBC: “There will be absolutely no conflict of interest allowed and anyone
applying for these jobs will apply through normal Foreign Office processes
so we can make sure that proper independence is protected.”

He added: “There may be one or two posts where someone who is perhaps chief
executive of a FTSE company, who has got strong links with another country,
could do a brilliant job representing the UK, building up our trade with
another country. We want the Foreign Office to be open to that kind of

However, the move was criticised by the FDA union, which represents senior
civil servants. Its general secretary, Dave Penman, said: “The role of a
diplomat in representing the UK’s interests abroad is much broader than
simply trade, which is why they go through years of training and develop
such a range of skills.

“That expertise already includes international trade. To solely focus on
this area risks undermining the UK’s interests and influence given the
complexities of international relations.”

Efforts by Hunt’s predecessor, Boris Johnson, to promote a post-Brexit
“Global Britain” policy were widely derided
as lacking substance. But Hunt, seeking to establish his authority in the
post, will say that “our democratic values are arguably under greater
threat than at any time since the fall of the Berlin Wall … we can use our
influence, reach and power to defend our values by becoming an invisible
chain that links the world’s democracies”.

He will propose increasing the number of languages taught at the Foreign
Office (FCO) from 50 to 70. The 20 additional languages will include the
central Asian tongues of Kazakh and Kyrgyz, Shona from Zimbabwe and
Gujarati from India.

Hunt himself speaks fluent Japanese, although no other FCO minister is
thought to be an expert in languages. The Europe minister, Alan Duncan,
recently admitted he had “a very rusty A-level French, and needed an
immersion course to restore it”.

The FCO acknowledges language skills have declined, partly due to the
closure of a language school. An investigation by the foreign affairs
select committee found the department had only 45 Russian speaker roles
across central and eastern Europe, but the FCO could not say how many of
these positions had been filled. About two-thirds of the UK diplomats
expelled by Russia
in the wake of the Sergei Skripal poisoning were Russian speakers.

The FCO also recognises it is suffering from a dearth of Arabic speakers,
with 30% of staff in roles requiring speaking ability reaching the target
skill level.

Hunt will also confirm plans announced by Johnson in March to increase the
number of overseas posts by 12.

The foreign secretary is aiming to project the FCO as a defender of
democratic values, but without claiming to run an ethical foreign policy of
the kind championed by the former Labour foreign secretary Robin Cook from

“Our network of friendships is unparalleled,” he will say. “But they are
underpinned by something more than shared history, shared language or
shared culture. They are underpinned by the values – democracy, the rule of
law, the separation of powers, respect for individual civil and political
rights, a belief in free trade – that bind us. When these values are under
threat, Britain’s role – indeed obligation – is to defend them.”
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 Harold F. Schiffman

Professor Emeritus of
 Dravidian Linguistics and Culture
Dept. of South Asia Studies
University of Pennsylvania
Philadelphia, PA 19104-6305

Phone:  (215) 898-7475
Fax:  (215) 573-2138

Email:  haroldfs at gmail.com

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