On 9 January Sir Thomas Harris, formerly UK Ambassador to Korea and British Consul-General in New York, led the discussion at our Current Affairs Group 1. The theme was “British Foreign Policy in the Real World.”
He recorded with regret the reduced role of the Foreign Office. Its International Development, Trade, and Brexit roles had been transferred to other Government departments. Moreover, instead of teaching young officials foreign languages and placing them in foreign embassies and consulates, the FO appointed local staff who might be competent but lacked diplomatic immunity which curbed their scope.
Much of his initial talk and subsequent discussion dwelt on the perils of a “No-Deal Brexit”. After retiring from the Diplomatic Service, Sir Thomas held senior posts at Standard Chartered Bank and other City institutions; and this lent weight to his analysis of the consequences of leaving the EU. Quite apart from slower growth, we would lose not only our trading relationship with other EU members (accounting for 45% of our exports) but also the benefit of the EU’s trade deals with third parties which accounted for around 17% of our export trade. We should not take it for granted that countries like India were anxious to sign trade deals.
He also recalled Dean Acheson’s comment in 1962 that Britain had lost and empire and had yet to find a role. He speculated we might lose our permanent seat at the Security Council.
The session was attended by twenty-seven members of the Group whose appreciation of Sir Thomas’s contribution was demonstrated by their enthusiastic applause.