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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 19 September 2018

Brexit could cost the UK top-flight UN status, former diplomat warns

Sir Simon Fraser, the former head of Britain’s diplomatic service, said Brexit would result in a loss of prestige

Sir Simon Fraser said Brexit would result in a loss of prestige. Matt Dunham/ AP Photo
Sir Simon Fraser said Brexit would result in a loss of prestige. Matt Dunham/ AP Photo

Uproar at the highest levels of government since the Brexit result has led to a warning from Sir Simon Fraser, the former head of Britain’s diplomatic service, that the UK could soon forfeit its top-flight status at the United Nations.

In a speech that coincided with the most damaging cabinet crisis since the early 1990s, Mr Fraser said Brexit would result in a loss of prestige. He described European Union membership as a “powerful multiplier” for British diplomacy. “Our bilateral relationships will be structurally weaker, not stronger, after Brexit, and France and Germany will be looking to work together through EU machinery,” he said. “Over time, leaving the EU will raise more eyebrows over our security council veto.”

Britain, the United States, the Russian Federation, France and China, are the five permanent members of the council. It has 10 more, non-permanent, members.

Referring to mounting criticism of foreign secretary Boris Johnson, Mr Fraser said diplomatic standards had slipped. “Successful foreign policy calls for careful analysis and sustained effort, not soundbites and wishful thinking,” he said. “The foreign office is not geared up for the task ahead, and has been disempowered by the short-term reorganisation of Whitehall for Brexit. Whitehall will have to be restructured for the long-term.”

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Dogged by a backlash against loose language regarding the plight of a British-Iranian woman jailed in Iran for five years on unspecified charges, Mr Johnson has come under pressure to resign.

Strolling back to his office on Tuesday, Mr Johnson walked in front of a stone bearing a tribute to his 20th century predecessor, Sir Edward Grey.

“By uprightness of character, wisdom in council and firmness in action, he won the confidence of his countrymen, and helped to carry them through many and great dangers,” it reads.

Few would associate these characteristics with Mr Johnson, who was a successful mayor of London. Accused of implicating Nazinin Zaghari-Ratcliffe in activities punishable by imprisonment in Tehran, Mr Johnson admitted he could have been clearer in his use of language.

His plight was overshadowed on Wednesday by the row over Priti Patel, the international development secretary who conducted diplomacy with Israeli leaders without informing Downing Street.

Theresa May's government has been racked by allegations of sexual harassment. Defence secretary Michael Fallon stood down last week. Mrs May's de facto deputy, Damian Green, was forced to deny allegations at the weekend that extreme pornographic material was found on his work computer in 2008.

Mark Garnier, a Brexit minister, is the subject of a cabinet office enquiry over his treatment of his office manager, and a number of backbench MPs face allegations of abuse.

Mr Fraser, a former chief diplomat, added that Germany and France were well-placed to step into the void left by British weakness. He said the UK had forfeited the concepts of diplomacy used by Tony Blair, the former prime minister, and William Hague, the foreign secretary between 2010 and 2014.

“Brexit weakens our hand on both sides of the Atlantic. For years, we have exploited our role as what Tony Blair called 'the bridge', and Hague calls 'the hinge', between Europe and America. Now our purchase on both will be reduced,” he said. “Washington will look to Berlin because Germany will be strongest in Europe. Under president Macron, France is regaining momentum.”

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