Foreign Office ‘relief’ at Fox resignation – The Times

[TamilNet, Sunday, 16 October 2011, 01:59 GMT]
The Times newspaper Saturday described “a palpable sense of relief” in Britain’s Foreign Office at the resignation of Defence Secretary Liam Fox, whose “shadow diplomacy”, the paper said, “has seriously muddied the presentation of British policy abroad.” Although the Foreign Office had agreed to Dr. Fox visiting Sri Lanka to deliver a public lecture in July, after it added a phrase calling for an independent inquiry into crimes against Tamil civilians, suspicions remained. “There was a lot of suspicion about what was being said in private,” an FCO source told The Times. “We couldn’t be sure that there wasn’t unofficial diplomacy going on.”

Dr. Fox resigned on Friday, as a media storm over his working relationship with a close friend and self-styled advisor, Mr. Adam Werritty, resulted in the exposing of unofficial foreign policy related activity that including donations – some at Dr. Fox’s direct behest - from wealthy right-wing tycoons to companies and trusts run by Mr. Werritty, meetings by both men with defence contractors, and government officials, including Sri Lanka’s President Mahinda Rajapaksa.

The BBC said Saturday it has learnt that officials at Britain’s Department for International Development had raised concerns about Mr Adam Werritty's involvement in Sri Lanka where, it is claimed, defence contracts were being touted.

This is the what the Times reported, in an article titled ‘Maverick who muddied the official line on Sri Lanka’:

It was swaddled in discretion and euphemism and expressions of polite regret but there was a palpable sense of relief in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office yesterday at the departure of a man whose shadow diplomacy has seriously muddied the presentation of British policy abroad.

“There is no longer a role for mavericks in foreign policy-making, however honorable and astute,” said one Whitehall mandarin, with quiet triumph.

The tug-of-war between Dr Fox and the Foreign Office on British policy towards Sri Lanka exposed an extraordinary institutional rift between the two great ministries on Whitehall.

William Hague, the Foreign Secretary, had set out his stall for British foreign policy that would be focused on promoting human rights as well as shepherding British interests abroad.

But Dr Fox … seemed to be very eager indeed to rehabilitate President Mahinda Rajapaska. The head of state, however, was stubbornly resisting an independent commission to investigate the alleged war crimes against the Tamils.

When he came to Britain last December, neither Mr Hague nor David Cameron agreed to meet him. Dr Fox, though, decided to hold a private meeting with the president in London.

The meeting led to a full-blown conflict between the Defence and the Foreign Secretaries. As far as the FCO was concerned, the Defence Secretary, backed by a web of businessmen and right-wing backbenchers, had stepped over an important boundary line.

After a frosty meeting with Mr Hague and WikiLeaks exposures disclosing US dismay about the Sri Lankan government, Dr Fox had to cancel a December 18 lecture in Sri Lanka. “It was after that meeting with Rajapaska in London that William [Hague] and No 10 decided to rein him in,” said an FCO source.

“I think at first that both the Foreign Office and No 10 were content to indulge him,” said a Foreign Office source. “We knew he had a long-standing interest. The problem, of course, was that all his contacts were with the government and he was viewed with suspicion by the Tamils.”

Dr Fox went on to deliver his lecture this year and apparently on FCO advice added a phrase calling for an independent inquiry into crimes against Tamil civilians. That seemed to outsiders to suggest that peace had been struck between the official and private practitioners of British foreign policy.

Only up to a point, says the FCO source: “There was a lot of suspicion about what was being said in private. We couldn’t be sure that there wasn’t unofficial diplomacy going on.”


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