'Big three' ready to bat for Major

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The Independent Online
A SPIN of the diplomatic roundabout this week put in place a trio of British ambassadors in Brussels, Paris and Bonn, who are both personally loyal to Prime Minister John Major and closely attuned to the Tory Party's acute sensitivity on Number 10's European line.

This gives Mr Major three trusties in key embassies prior to the opening, later this year, of the inter-governmental conferences on the future of Europe. At issue are the common currency, powers of the European Commission and expanding the European Union to the east.

Chris Meyer, 51, John Major's press secretary, moves to Bonn early next year. Michael Jay, 49, principal co-ordinator at the Foreign Office of the Government's line on European Union, takes Paris. Stephen Wall, 49, formerly Mr Major's private secretary at Number 10, is now head of the UK representation in Brussels.

Officially these postings are no more than Buggin's turn. The Paris and Bonn jobs were considered for Pauline Neville-Jones, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office's political director and its most senior woman; she is "on leave" considering what she does next. All three are well- qualified for their new jobs but the FCO does listen closely to Number 10's preferences and the moves announced this week complete a jigsaw in the capitals of Europe which gives Mr Major a close, high-powered team for fighting European battles.

If the government were to change this year, an incoming Labour administration might need to think again. Tony Blair is being privately advised to consider breaking up the FCO and establishing a Department for Europe. If that were to happen the accumulated experience of these three guarantees they would play central roles in it.

The three ambassadors saw their careers flower under Mr Major. Mr Meyer, who became press secretary in 1994, hit it off with the Prime Minister without ever being accused of stepping over the fine line that separates civil service work from political partisanship.

As a Foreign Office specialist in the private office team at Number 10 during the Maastricht negotiations, Mr Wall became a trusted confidant.

Mr Jay's placing in Paris indicates the Government's desire to strengthen the Anglo-French connection in the context of re-negotiating European Union.

The Foreign Secretary, Malcolm Rifkind, is understood to approve of the moves.