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What is the foreign office for?

 I ask this as a serious question because I am genuinely unclear.  I understand that in the days of empire, the politicos might have enjoyed pointing gunboats at small nations and battle fleets at larger ones.  But that’s more or less over.  Nowadays we just seem to scurry along to whatever dump the UN or NATO or the Yanks want to send us to. 


Well what about consular assistance?  I don’t have much experience of this; all I see are adverts telling us not to break the laws in foreign countries because you are, more or less on your own.  Don’t even start me on the asymmetric nature of the extradition agreement between Britain and the USA. 


Travel advice?  This is usually mindlessly obvious.  Just look at any one of half a dozen news websites and decide for yourself whether or not it is safe to go there.  Hint ~ Afghanistan, bad; France, kinda Gallic snooty but okay.  You get the point. 


Foreign aid is now widely recognised as destructive to the recipient countries and we don’t have any spare money anyway, so it can’t be that, (although I accept both the politicians who give it and the politicians who receive it benefit personally to an enormous degree, possibly why it doesn’t die a natural death).


So it must be a credible and intelligent foreign policy to ensure stability and friendly relations with countries in strategically important areas?


Well I’ve been off the radar for a week and I came back to SKY news doing a very friendly clip of the Syrian rebels.  They were more or less a rag-tag bunch of AK waving, masked men chanting Allah-Akbar.  I am unclear how cheer-leading for this crew is in some way better than having Assad in power?  Elsewhere I see the Muslim brotherhood elected in Egypt; can anyone imagine any problems with that?  Wouldn’t Mubarak have been a bit more friendly?  In Libya we helped bomb-out a thoroughly tamed Gaddafi and have replaced him with a group of unknown thugs who desecrate British war graves and in Afghanistan, after ludicrous and thoroughly unaffordable costs, plus many deaths, we have the electoral fraudster Karzai heading up a temporary cleptocracy, almost certain to collapse into anarchy come tribal rule about ten minutes after we leave.  The destruction of the Iraqi ba’ath party and the Taliban in Afghanistan has annihilated the two serious challengers to Iran’s military supremacy in the region and Iran itself is no way more confident and influential than before.  And it’s not even like we are consistent.  The machine-gunning of unarmed demonstrators calling for democracy in Qatar by Saudi security forces goes more or less unremarked upon.


So really, is it time to close the book on the FCO?        


  1. NickM says:

    Since his High Tonyness “Overseas Development” was hived off from the FCO and is a seperate cabinet position with a ring-fenced 0.7% GDP.

  2. The purpose of the FCO is to keep down job opportunities at the MoD.

    Best regards

  3. NickM says:

    don’t the MoD already have enough pointless loafers?

  4. bloke in spain says:

    Er…Isn’t the Foreign Office usually regarded as the Ministry Responsible To Foreigners?
    What’s it got to do with our interests? Apart from our paying for it, of course.

    (It was Cyril Northcote Parkinson, of Parkinson’s Law fame, who pointed out in the 50s; When Britain had an Empire to rule & bestrode the world as a colossus, the combined staffs of the FO & the Colonial Office would scarcely have been able to stage a football match. As Britain’s influence declined, so the numbers employed rose until, with British might undetectable, the now combined monolith has a headcount in the tens of thousands. It’s obvious, therefore, its purpose is to serve the needs of other lands. Perhaps the time has finally come to offshore it altogether. Maybe a call centre in India would be the answer.)

  5. John Galt says:

    Without the FCO and embassies worldwide where would put “our friend” (from MI6) in his cushy little number as cultural attaché to the government of Mongolia in Ulan Bator so he can keep an eye on the Chinese?

    Next you’ll be suggesting that we roll-up all the embassies and just leave a little blue plaque outside each one:

    “Here stood the British Mission in Islamabad – 1945 to 2012″
    “For consular help please phone one of our friendly operators on Mumbai 1212″
    “English and Hindi only”.

    Next you’ll be suggesting we roll-up MI5, MI6 and GCHQ as once we’ve given up on the FCO and the embassies we won’t need them.

    Actually – Bloody good idea!

  6. RAB says:

    Gosh! we still have a Foreign Office? I thought that the EU had taken over all that from us, just like everything else?

    Isn’t our very own Baroness Clueless in charge? Vast amounts of Euro’s have been spent laying in wine cellars and banqueting accessories in brand new premises across the world. And isn’t the Baroness doing such a wonderful job? no wonder she is one of our highest paid officials. Well except if it all comes to global war or genocidal mayhem after 8.15 pm, when it’s best to leave a message on the answerphone, cos she’s gone home.

    And about bleedin time we got a couple of new threads up! I may be on friggin holiday, but the rest of you aren’t! ;-)

  7. john in cheshire says:

    The uselessness of our Embassies in their treatment of us English nationals goes back decades. I remember I had cause to visit the British Embassy in Greece back in about 1975 – I can’t remember, mind why I had cause to go there – and it was a complete waste of my time. I was with an American girl and the next stop was to (of all places) the American Express offices. I was astounded at how they helped her to sort out her problems (again, I can’t remember what they were). But she told me that for her, the Amex office was a defacto consulate. I have a feeling that we also had to pay a visit to the American Embassy but my lasting impression, then, was that an American citizen was regarded by their national bodies as something valuable and to be protected, while me, a lowly brit, was just an inconvenience. That episode has stayed with me and jaundiced my view of the FCO ever since.

  8. NickM says:

    I am reminded of a bit from, “Yes, Prime Minister.”

    It goes a bit like this…

    Hacker: “Does anyone know what the Foreign Office is doing?”

    Sir Humphrey: “Well, the Foreign Office does Prime Minister…”

    Bernard: “And the Kremlin”.

  9. Roue le Jour says:

    I have an interest in doing something in country A. My experience goes like this:

    Call embassy of country A in London. Speak to charming and helpful lady from country A who speaks perfect English.

    Call British embassy in country A. Speak to foul tempered harridan from country A with limited English who who explicitly states it is not the job of the embassy to help me with my problem (regardless of what the problem is).

    And I pay for this?

  10. RAB “Gosh! we still have a Foreign Office? I thought that the EU had taken over all that from us, just like everything else?” I think I am right in saying that at one point our foreign reps were Margaret Beckett and Cathy Ashton!

    “I may be on friggin holiday, but the rest of you aren’t!”

    I was!

  11. John Galt says:


    Forgiving Cats pardon for the use of peculiar language but “Far Queue” (that’s the posh version for landed gentry only).

    I’ve been enjoying my holiday in the far east since the vernal equinox and will not be returning to the UK until the worlds most expensive school sports day is over and done with.

    Not just lawyers that can afford a few months off in the sun and we still maintain our corner in the Kitty Kounter Kommentariat!

  12. Lynne says:

    Do you mean Foreign Orifice? The bottomless pit arsehole politicians pour someone else’s money into for self agrandisement to fund humanitarian foreign military capability?

  13. RAB says:

    John, I was referring to to my fellow conspiritors, as I’m sure you well know. You are a valued commenter, not the same thing. They can turn into a right lazy idle shower when the Cat’s away you know! :-)

    Single Acts, I didn’t see your CZ 42 chitty requesting a vacation come across my desk? Tsk Tsk! Pay and benefits will be docked I’m afraid. ;-)

    The weather here, just south of Tours, is wonderful, the food and wine are wonderful, and I’ve still got a week to go! Eat your hearts out hailstoned England!

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