EU veteran is Major's man in Paris

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Political Editor

Michael Jay, the Foreign Office's senior mandarin on European affairs, is to become ambassador in Paris, in a Whitehall-wide shake-up which has left the Government with an almost entirely new team of top European Union experts for the two critical years ahead.

Mr Jay, an urbane 49 year old Wykhamist who is a veteran of the Maastricht summit and has been occupied full time on EU affairs since John Major came to power in 1990, is to replace Sir Christopher Mallaby in what is now regarded as one of the most pivotal diplomatic posts.

The expertise of Mr Jay is thought by ministers to be especially valuable in British attempts to forge an alliance with the centre-right French government of Jacques Chirac in checking the German driven momentum to full-scale European integration.

He is to be replaced by Paul Lever, another Whitehall high flyer, whose work at the Cabinet Office includes servicing the powerful Overseas and Defence Policy committee of the Cabinet. Mr Lever, 50, also has wide EU experience.

The changes - which have yet to be announced - come as the Government gears up for the 1996 inter-governmental conference on the future of the EU which is expected to begin with a special summit in Turin in the spring. The departure of Rod Lyne, the Prime Minister's foreign affairs secretary, has also left another key vacancy - which will be filled by John Holmes, currently the Foreign Office official dealing with the EU's external affairs brief.

The change round completes a process that began early in the year with the replacement of Sir John Kerr, another veteran EU negotiator, by Steven Wall, formerly Mr Major's foreign affairs private secretary, as British ambassador to the EU in Brussels. Sir John was promoted to the embassy in Washington.

Mr Lever, whose appointment is one of a series approved by David Davis, the Foreign Office minister with direct responsibility for EU affairs, was also involved in behind-the-scenes diplomatic efforts which helped secure the recent release of Staff Sergeant Tim Cowley, the British hostage held for 119 days by Colombian guerrillas.

Ministers describe the new team as "robust" and with an ability to speak their minds both to EU counterparts and, when necessary, to ministers themselves.

According to one minister, Mr Lever is "unflappable but also not a kiss- up kick-down" sort of official.