Who are the surrender monkeys now? The UK only has reverse gears at the Foreign Office.

Mr Miliband is presiding over a dreadful period for the UK’s reputation abroad. Our foreign policy bears the imprint of the last foreign visitor or international institution we have dealings with. We retreat and change positions as overseas visitors and meetings demand. The US delivered the insult to the French at the time of the Iraq war that they were “surrender monkeys”. Who are the surrender monkeys now?

In the last few days we have seen the humiliating spectacle of the UK government rushing to reassure France and Germany that the UK will speedily complete its ratification of the Constitutional treaty without asking the people, as if Ireland had not voted against. The UK government surrendered to the common Franco-German position. Simultaneously we have seen the government plant a story on the front page of the Sunday Times that the same Treaty is dead, just before inviting sensibly Eurosceptic Mr Murdoch to dinner at Number 10 with the US President. Clearly the government was unwilling to stand up to Mr Murdoch in defence of its view that the Constitutional treaty has to be railroaded through the UK Parliament, ignoring the wishes of the British people. The President announced in advance of his visit that he wished to stiffen the UK’s resolve not to pull out of Iraq to any prearranged timetable. The government went on radio and TV and dutifully said they had no pre-arranged timetable to leave, yet we have seen suggestions in the media that they do intend to get our troops out within the next year.

No wonder people hold our government in low esteem, and no wonder people do not believe much of what they say. Mr Miliband should have stood proud for the UK. He should have said to France and Germany:

“The Irish vote changes everything. The Treaty cannot now be ratified by all 27 states. If we held a referendum in the UK as we should it would be voted down here as well. Let us use the next summit to discuss ways of reducing the unpopularity of the Union with many of the people who live within it. By all means cut the numbers of senior officials and streamline its procedures, but with a view to it doing less and better, not with a view to it grabbing more power away from elected governments. We could cut officials, reduce regulation and do less without the need for a big new Treaty. The EU has to say to the people of Ireland that their views are respected, and mean it. It is quite unacceptable for the Union to be threatening or sidelining any member because they have the wrong views or are a small country.”

He should have said to Mr Bush:

“The UK Parliament and people are unhappy at the way our joint military interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan have worked out. We admire all that our troops have done, and are concerned by the continuing high casualty levels. We would like to agree a private timetable with you for joint withdrawal, but if that is not possible we do intend to get our troops home from Iraq soon. It was never our intention to become a permanent army of occupation or a police force for Iraq. We believe in self-determination of peoples.”

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4 Comments

  1. David Eyles
    Posted June 16, 2008 at 12:08 pm | Permalink

    The more arrogant they become, the more likely there will be a welling up of popular demand for a complete withdrawal from the EU. It seems that EU and UK civil servants and governments have not woken up to this yet.

    The Foreign Office seems to have a long track record of this sort of thing and I understand that a lot of our gold-plating and over-compliance with EU directives etc originate with the FO's obsession with "proving" that they are good Europeans and because they want to carry on playing at the "Top Table". This is the source of much of those statements along the lines of "If we're outside the EU, then we cannot influence it." That's the argument that falls down the moment you ask them how much influence this country has actually acheived.

    Which leads me to ask how the Conservatives are going to reform this institution which, a long time ago used to be very much the elite of the Civil Service, without actually destroying a vital tool for our future foreign policy. Has a Conservative policy been developed for this yet?

  2. Travis Bickle
    Posted June 16, 2008 at 1:27 pm | Permalink

    Never forget that Miliband and Brown might, with luck, need to look for alternate employment in 2010.

    That is why they are so pro EU, which is really little more than a failed politician's retirement beano with absolutely no regard to the 490 million irrelevances they are supposed to be representing. Sadly quite a few MPs on your side of the house seem to understand this only too well John, which is why we will never be offered the chance to address the real question that needs addressing… in or out.

  3. mikestallard
    Posted June 16, 2008 at 6:07 pm | Permalink

    A useful thing from Open Europe was the figure for our trade with the EU. According to them, the Europeans, led by the Germans, export to us about twice as much as we export to them. By my book, this means that they should be begging us – not the other way round.
    All the pressure seems to be coming from Europe for the Treaty, too. Surely, to bring in a very new and untried idea, the onus of proof lies with the innovator? They should be begging us – not the other way round.
    As to the Foreign Office, I regret that it let Mrs Thatcher down very badly in her hour of need and it has gone downhill ever since. Christopher Booker makes a lot of the "Rolls Royce" Foreign Office. It needs a really good Foreign Secretary to pull it into shape. No doubt Mr Hague will do the business.

  4. William B.
    Posted June 17, 2008 at 3:30 am | Permalink

    It used to be the case that the Foreign Secretary was a political heavyweight. Going back to 1977 the appointment of David Owen was unorthodox but he was Number 2 at the FCO when Anthony Crosland died and was a national figure. Throughout the Conservative governments from 1979 until 1997 the FCO was always headed by someone of experience and substance – Lord Carington, Francis Pym, Sir Geoffrey Howe, John Major, Douglas Hurd and Malcolm Rifkind.

    Over the last 11 years none of the holders of that office has seemed to me to be in the same league. There has been no sign that they have had any significant input into policy but have very much been the poodles of Number 10. This inevitably means that their dealings with the foreign ministers of other countries have been from a position of weakness.

    Mr Blair's uncanny ability to say whatever the audience in front of him wanted to hear, followed by Mr Brown's sad inability to make decisions, have left their Foreign Secretaries floating in the wind on issue after issue.

    The weakening of the position of Foreign Secretary by an over-controlling Prime Ministeris inevitably weakens the whole of the FCO. This is, of course, a problem that has affected not just the FCO over the last 11 years, all departments have suffered.

    The standing of the Home Office, the Treasury, the FCO and the Justice Department (formerly Lord Chancellor's Department) must surely be at their lowest levels in history – great offices of state reduced to administrative arms of the Number 10 machine. It leaves the offices impotent, stagnates policy development and stifles initiative thereby frustrating experienced and dedicated staff and leading to weak government.

    I feel there is much to be gained by Mr Cameron making clear that the senior members of his cabinet will have real responsibility for the departments they head. Bring back true cabinet government and let everyone know you are going to do so, I am sure there is much to be gained.

  • About John Redwood


    John Redwood won a free place at Kent College, Canterbury, and graduated from Magdalen College Oxford. He is a Distinguished fellow of All Souls, Oxford. A businessman by background, he has set up an investment management business, was both executive and non executive chairman of a quoted industrial PLC, and chaired a manufacturing company with factories in Birmingham, Chicago, India and China. He is the MP for Wokingham, first elected in 1987.

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