Thank you, Minister.
It gives me a great deal of pleasure to share a platform with you at the FCO. And, on behalf of TheCityUK, may I add my welcome to all of you here this evening.
We’re delighted to be able to partner with the FCO to make this event happen. It’s a strong signal of our appreciation of the wide & deep relationships we have with you at home & overseas.
This reception brings together your leadership team in London & from Posts around the world with a range of your key stakeholders. And I’d like to say a few words about why we value what you do & why it makes a difference to the UK’s vital national interests.
There is an increasing need to understand & respond to ever-changing & often complex global challenges that affect the landscape in which all of us operate – whether that is government, business, media or NGOs.
That means the FCO is not only at the heart of managing the UK’s international footprint, but also able to translate its knowledge & analysis into national priorities. The days when domestic & international issues co-existed are long gone - they are now very often inter-linked & are different sides of the same coin. I only need to mention relations with the EU, or countering radicalisation & extremism, or pursuing business opportunities to illustrate that point.
To give a practical set of examples, I’ll note three areas where we at TheCityUK have been working with the FCO on our key priorities:
- on EU reform, where we recently identified 25 practical proposals which, together with the need to redefine ever closer union, add up to a deliverable package that will benefit the UK & all EU Member States
- on the conclusion of ambitious trade & investment agreements, not least TTIP where regulatory coherence & market access are vital elements
- & on growing our relationships with developed & emerging economies – not just China, India & ASEAN, but also those in Latin America, MENA, Africa & Eurasia - to deliver prosperity now & in the future.
- So against this backdrop, how do we see the future evolving for the FCO & how does that affect our relationships?
I’d like to recognise five key areas:
- it means using the UK’s influence, reputation & national assets – including our values & the rule of law - to best effect
- it means identifying other countries’ priorities & assessing their actions with clarity & insight
- it means building coalitions of common interest with other governments & working together effectively with stakeholders
- it means strengthening the rules-based multilateral system
- & it means putting prosperity & economic & commercial diplomacy at the heart of the FCO’s mission to secure the future competitiveness of UK-based companies.
To achieve this, there needs to be a clear focus on:
- identifying, influencing & reacting to global trends
- taking advantage of both the political & economic opportunities that exist to pursue the UK’s national interests
- & understanding & mitigating the risks that can undermine success.
- This is a huge, demanding & relevant agenda. But let me add a note of caution here. In the autumn, the Government will deliver its Spending Review 2015. All of us understand the need to balance expenditure, achieve value for money & assess priorities. The reality is that the FCO is a relatively small spending department. If you accept what I’ve been saying this evening, the maintenance of a viable & effective global network of Posts to deliver the UK’s objectives & interests internationally must be fully recognised.
Whilst this network of both individual country & multilateral Posts may change shape over time, it is an essential national asset without which we would be much diminished in our reach, capacity & ability to deliver political & economic security for the UK. I can assure you that we will be strongly arguing for that recognition in our Spending Round submission.
Minister, I’d like to close with two last thoughts.
Firstly, any organisation is really about its people. This event gives me the chance to recognise & to express our appreciation to you, the Ministerial team here & all the officials, whether or not they are present this evening, for everything that the FCO does to promote the UK & to secure its future. The message is that your work matters.
And, secondly, although there will be other occasions to mark Simon’s retirement from the FCO, I’d like to put on record the debt of thanks we owe to him for his significant contribution over the years, most latterly as Permanent Under-Secretary. There are people in this room who have known Simon for most of his career & those who have come to know him more recently. Everyone, though, recognises his ability, dedication & good humour. So whatever the future holds, Simon, we wish you well.
Please enjoy the rest of this evening. Thank you.