“With inky blots and rotten parchment bonds, this England that was wont to conquer others hath made a shameful conquest of itself.” William Shakespeare
I watched Boris make his statement in the House of Commons last week on Global Britain.
Putting diplomats back in control of the aid budget was long overdue. However well meant, an aid budget run for its own sake and spending money for a publicity target is bonkers. I have no argument with the move to regain control and many a High Commissioner and Ambassador will be mighty grateful. What use is telling the local leadership to clean up their human rights when a rival British office hands over cash with no questions asked?
I’m not naïve, Boris. I worked in the old Commonwealth Relations Office and then the FCO for thirty years. The mandarins of the FCO have no interest in the Commonwealth, never did, they’re obsessed with Europe. And last week, true to form, they let the cat out of the bag. Whoever wrote your statement chose to compare Ukraine with Tanzania, and small shaky Balkan countries with Tanzania. Now why would anyone do that?
Tanzania is about a third larger than Ukraine, its population about a fifth larger at 56 million. Ukrainians are four or five times better off than most Tanzanians although only twice as well off when measured by dollar PPP. Tanzania has tensions up the road on the neighbours’ lands. Ukraine is a battlefield in a proxy war between the EU led by Germany and Putin’s strange version of a modern state. The small Balkan republics are just a new front. Only the FCO mandarins would be daft enough to give aid money to Ukraine instead of Tanzania, a member of the Commonwealth.
So what’s really behind this move?
Look at the numbers. Our aid budget is about £14 or £15 billions – no gold stars for guessing how much we send the EU budget every year. Not much short of the same amount. My next question becomes inevitable – are we looking at a back channel deal with Ursula and Angela? Is handing over British aid money (in reality to Germany) for the bottomless pit of Eastern Europe and the rumbling frontier war with Putin a better use of our taxes than helping Tanzanians? Definitely not. We’re being milked like the Swiss taxpayers who fork out for Lufthansa as well as Eastern Europe. Angela even has the Italians approaching the Federal Councillor from the Tessin, for money. The Swiss aren’t EU members and we left the EU on the 31 January this year. I’m not that senile, I know we did, I came over for the party.
My next question also becomes inevitable – what was Cummings role in this double-dealing of the British taxpayers? Boris is too intelligent not to have been party to this stitch up. Surely Cummings is there to stop this kind of trick. This move over DFID is a carbon copy of summer 1963. Believe me, it feels like yesterday.
If you think that’s not very democratic, there’s worse to come – the real roots go much further back.
Many mandarins don’t want to leave Auntie Brussels’ skirts. Deep down they know they’re not up to life in the fast lane so they feed gullible politicians with threats of disaster once the umbilical cord is severed. Former diplomats preach despair and surrender in the House of Lords. What drives these people? Why is all this so crucial for our foreign policy and defence? You need to know a little history.
During the 1930s, the Foreign Office preached disarmament with appeasement of the dictators. To this day an elegant suite of rooms bears the name of the treaty that set up the doomed League of Nations. Eventually all this led to the Munich Agreement of 1938 between Hitler and Chamberlain. Churchill was an almost lone voice warning of danger ahead. Fortunately, other people in Britain woke up and the country started to rearm. The new Foreign Secretary, Anthony Eden, distrusted his Permanent Secretary’s judgement so much that he recalled our man in China to be the senior of two ‘deputy permanent secretaries’ until effectively there were two permanent secretaries. As an institution, the FO still preached appeasement when Poland was invaded in September 1939. There followed the phoney war until April 1940 when Norway and Denmark were invaded.
Chamberlain was forced to resign as Prime Minister after the debate on the disaster in Norway. This took place on 10th May 1940, the day after Holland was invaded, the same day Belgium and France were invaded. Luxembourg provided the German start-line. A month later the FO argued for a negotiated settlement while thanks to the Royal Navy and RAF, the BEF minus all its equipment escaped from the port and sands of Dunkirk. Churchill, strengthened by the support of Attlee, Greenwood and Bevan, gave his answer in those famous words that began, ‘We shall fight them…’ And fight we did; the Few hurling back Hitler’s vultures in the sky. Operation Sealion – invasion – was indefinitely postponed.
The following spring Hitler invaded Yugoslavia and Greece; then Russia. That December the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbour and proceeded to grab Hong Kong, Indochina, Malaya and Singapore, the Dutch East Indies and countless Pacific islands.
The FO’s core strategy for twenty years vanished over a few months in several colossal smoke mushrooms. Only our embassies in Lisbon, Madrid, Bern, Stockholm, Helsinki and Moscow were left in Europe. The surviving outpost in the Far East was Chunking. Our secret service lost all its agent networks apart from Iberia and Latin America while being betrayed by Stalin’s agents among its own rising officers. Churchill’s solution to all this disaster was to take one of the cleverest people in the Labour Party, Hugh Dalton, and put him in charge of what became known as SOE, Special Operations Executive, with orders to set Europe ablaze. And they did – by building up intelligence gathering networks and armed resistance groups all over Europe and eventually the Far East.
After the war, the Foreign Office and Secret Service very quickly disbanded SOE which both regarded as a threat to their own influence. This short-sighted act of self-preservation by both organisations was a strategic blunder. SOE was probably the ideal core force for all the clandestine wars that Britain would fight – from Malaya and North Borneo to Afghanistan and Syria. American military theorists would give their last shilling to have an SOE to fight modern asymmetric wars.
The next Foreign Office blunder was the Suez Operation in 1956. Eisenhower called a halt to Eden’s invasion with the French of the Suez Canal Zone – in collusion with the Israelis. For the Foreign Office mandarins the European Union became a life support system just across the Channel. But what to do about the global reach of that Commonwealth power base only yards across the courtyard in Whitehall?
That power base was the Commonwealth Relations Office, where departments dealing with countries or specialist matters were staffed more often by people who knew those places or had those skills.
In my own case I had been a lieutenant in the Royal Engineers only months before I joined the Defence Department. My line manager was one of the original Desert Rats and former colonial secretary in Uganda. Our boss was Major-General George Price, late of the Royal Engineers, known throughout Whitehall after serving on General Pug Ismay’s staff during the war advising Winston Churchill. We didn’t make problems for Harold Macmillan’s Government; actually, we had a reputation for being rather good at solving them, over and over again.
The Commonwealth Relations Office had been formed from the Dominions Office, India Office and Colonial Office staff from the newly independent colonies. As more colonies became independent so their former Colonial Office staff joined the CRO. Eventually the CRO and the Colonial Office merged because there were so few colonies left to make independent. Duncan Sandys – son-in-law of Winston Churchill – was our Secretary of State. He had been Defence Minister, infamous for his 1957 White Paper, none-the-less a very senior member of the government.
Until this time Colonial Office always took the best applicants from Oxford and Cambridge before the FO and the rest of the Civil Service took their new entrants. All this work of peacefully wrapping up the British Empire and turning it into the Commonwealth had very little to do with the FO – which still wasn’t the flavour of the month after Suez, only seven years before I joined the CRO.
The FO was obsessed with Europe. Our job was post-imperial, namely to look after our wartime allies and friends who formed the former global empire, and keep the Russians out of the new Commonwealth so our closest alliances remained strong.
In the early 1960s the FO line was that Britain had two foreign policies, theirs and ours. To end this confusion – meaning have their way – we had to merge which also would reduce overheads. For a start one questions whether removing the old CRO overheads saved £9 billions worth of 1968 pounds! The real answer is the FCO spent over £ 400 billions on wealthy French farmers and other comfortable Europeans that could have given Africa and India clean water.
Another FO line was that the Commonwealth had turned its back on us by buying imports from other countries. This was nonsense as Peter Shore exposed in a famous speech during the original national debate on whether to join the Common Market.
In reality the FO’s desperate fight for our destruction by merger cleared the way for their next massive strategic blunder – joining the Common Market. Nowadays I fear they look desperate enough to preside over another historic wrong turn simply to survive as the controllers of Britain’s destiny. What is the alternative they fear so much that they would rather over sixty million fellow Britons became political, economic and military vassals of the German sun?
Had there still been a Commonwealth Relations Office in the early 1970s, opposition to joining the Common Market would have had a focal point in London. Forty-five years ago those of us who foresaw disaster nonetheless accepted the result and did our best to make it work as I did for thirty years. Not any longer. The present European Union blatantly meddles in our domestic political life. The German sun wants all the European economies under its control. How dare the British yet again deny the sun its destiny? Britain is needed to make German and French rule acceptable to the rest of Europe. Yet only two years after British voters defied Project Fear, the health of the economy ridiculed the high priests of Remain. We are like a ship that has sailed on the wrong compass bearing for nearly 50 years. Turn the ship onto the true bearing with the wind behind her and her speed picks up almost without effort. To make sure we stay on course this time let’s take the C out of FCO.
Much as I enjoyed working in foreign countries as well as the Commonwealth, reluctantly, I have reached the conclusion that the Foreign Office is not interested in the Commonwealth; indeed, regards it as a threat to its own influence. Let’s do what the mandarins dread: let’s revive a Commonwealth office of state and merge the Department for International Development with its budget into this new Commonwealth Office. Further, let’s give it one more job – presiding over our relations with the United States of America. Scrap NATO and build a new global alliance round the Five Eyes intelligence sharing countries. Then we’ll start getting the global Britain we all voted for.
As in the 1960s, serving diplomats should be allowed to volunteer for the new service or opt to stay in the Foreign Office. That old argument that the CRO had to be gobbled up by the FO because otherwise we had two foreign policies, was nonsense. The CRO was gobbled up partly because of a falsehood that the Commonwealth depended on British political enthusiasm. There was an FO mandarin assumption that the other countries weren’t interested in talking to each other and they forecast the Commonwealth soon would wither away. What utter nonsense. I would even go as far as racist nonsense. When I served in Jamaica, the chairman of the Jamaica Telephone Company told me that the highest volumes of phone calls off the island were with Atlanta, Toronto and London.
When the history of the last sixty years is written I think the robust health of the Commonwealth through millions of warm personal relationships will prove the Queen’s greatest victory.