Mission possible

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Strong support for human rights and a rejection of Conservative isolationism were yesterday laid down by Robin Cook, the Foreign Secretary as he took British foreign policy into a new era. Flanked by his new ministerial team, Mr Cook told a press conference: "Our foreign policy must have an ethical dimension and must support the demands of other peoples for the democratic rights on which we insist for ourselves.

"The Labour Government will put human rights at the heart of our foreign policy and will publish an annual report on our work in promoting human rights abroad."

The Foreign Secretary said that would include efforts to clamp down on the exploitation of child labour, by international agreement with individual countries like India and through multilateral trade agreements - and through tough economic sanctions against brutal regimes like Nigeria.

As for the arms trade, Mr Cook said that although Britain was one of the Big Four arms-trading nations, the Government would not allow the sale of arms for internal repression or external aggression, and when an embargo was put in place, every effort would be made to ensure that other countries did not step in to provide alternative sources of supply.

Mr Cook has already heralded a "fresh start" in relations with the European Union, but he said yesterday that he wanted to reverse "the Tory trend toward not-so-splendid isolation".

The Foreign Secretary's message - backed up by a David Puttnam video to be sent out to more than 200 foreign posts - caused embarrassment around Whitehall, because it caught other departments unprepared.

Unveiling his Foreign Office "mission statement", Mr Cook said: "Every modern business starts with a mission statement that sets clear objectives.

"New Labour is determined to bring a businesslike approach to government and today, only 10 days into our term of office, I am launching a new mission statement for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office."

But there was little sign of other government departments following Mr Cook's business-like approach.

Although Gordon Brown, Chancellor of the Exchequer, went to the Treasury with a new mission statement already drafted, including the basic commitment to high and stable levels of growth and employment, a number of departments were nonplussed last night by questions about their statements.

Labour ministers have inherited existing aims and objectives left by their Tory pre- decessors. Under the Tories, the Foreign Office's "Mission" had been: "To enhance the security of the United Kingdom and the Dependent Territories, to promote their prosperity and protect British interests and influence overseas, and to protect British nationals abroad."

Mr Cook's replacement statement said: "The Mission of the Foreign and Commonwealth office is to promote the national interests of the United Kingdom and to contribute to a strong world community."

It would be pursued to secure four benefits: security and prosperity, as well as "mutual respect", which included spread- ing the values of human rights and civil liberties; and "quality of life", which included a commitment to "work with others to protect the world's environment and to counter the menace of drugs, terrorism and crime."

The only notable difference between the wording of the Tory and Labour statements was the omission of the "transatlantic relationship" in Mr Cook's new mission statement.

But he told the press conference: "Britain will be a more valuable and more valued ally of America if we do actually emerge as a leading partner within Europe, because a Britain which does not have influence in Europe will be of less interest to Washington."

It was also notable that while the Foreign Secretary's "mission" section on relations with Europe dealt with enlargement of the EU and completion of the single market, there was no mention of economic and monetary union.

John Redwood, one of the challengers for the Conservative leadership, said: "He [Mr Cook] tells us that Britain will now be leading in Europe. Yet all he has done is to surrender more of our rights to self-government."

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