From Basra to Bari, Britain's diplomats to close their doors

 

Britain's representation in Europe is to be scaled back dramatically in a restructuring of its embassies and consulates around the world.

The Independent has learnt that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office will close up to a dozen consulates in countries including France, Germany, Spain and Italy. New embassies and consulates are planned for South and Central America, plus a big increase in representation in China.

Perhaps the most controversial part of the plan is a preliminary decision to shut the consulate in Basra, which will bring Britain's involvement in the southern Iraqi city to an end. The Foreign Secretary, William Hague, is thought to have concluded that the high cost of providing security to the consulate is disproportionate to the benefit it brings Britain – especially now it has no military presence there.

It will fuel concerns that Britain is "abandoning" Iraq on cost grounds and will be badly placed to take advantage of the oil boom in the area. The number of overseas staff at the British Embassy in Baghdad has already dropped by about 30 per cent.

But it is Britain's consulates in Europe which are to take the brunt of the cutbacks. At present there are seven in Italy – including honorary consuls in Bari, Cagliari and Catania – six in Spain, four in Germany and three in France.

Most at risk are those based in expensive property that can be sold off. Certain to close are Venice and Florence, where Britain has had a presence since the 1450s. The consulate in Florence overlooks the River Arno, and that of the honorary consul in Venice also occupies a prime spot in the city.

"Basically, the problem is that it's three people sitting in a fabulous piazza in Venice doing not very much," said a diplomatic source.

Some of the money saved from closing the consulates will go towards the savings the Foreign Office has to make as part of the Comprehensive Spending Review. The majority will be reinvested in embassies and consulates in parts of the world where Britain has had no representation previously.

Paraguay, El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua are among the countries that could have a British Embassy for the first time. Representation in Brazil is also likely to be increased, with new consulates possible in the industrial Amazon city of Manaus and the ancient port of Salvador.

China is likely to see significant increase in British representation. At present only four Chinese cities have a British envoy, and this is likely to be boosted to include several "second tier" cities.

The changes will be announced during the FCO's leadership conference in London this month, which brings together Britain's most senior ambassadors. A Foreign Office source said: "This is a serious, strategic, and long-overdue exercise to ensure we are where we need to be in a rapidly changing world."

The move may be less than popular with staff, and could also alienate some of Britain's closer neighbours and expatriate communities.

"There have been representatives from the consulate here for almost 600 years," said Father Lawrence MacLean, chaplain of St Mark's English Church in Florence, when the decision was announced there. "It's a great cultural link for the people of Florence who have had a long relationship with the people of Britain. Everyone thinks it's a great sadness that due to so-called economic necessities the place has to close."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Arts and Entertainment
tvPoldark, TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Cassetteboy's latest video is called Emperor's New Clothes rap
videoThe political parody genius duo strike again with new video
Arts and Entertainment
Louis Theroux: By Reason of Insanity takes him behind the bars again
tvBy Reason of Insanity, TV review
News
Lois Pryce... Life Without a Postcode. Lois lives on a boat with her husband.. Registering to vote in the election has prooved to be very difficult without a fixed residential post code. (David Sandison)
newsHow living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
2015 General Election
May2015

Poll of Polls

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Junior Web Designer - Client Liaison

£6 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join a gro...

Recruitment Genius: Service Delivery Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Service Delivery Manager is required to join...

Recruitment Genius: Massage Therapist / Sports Therapist

£12000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A opportunity has arisen for a ...

Ashdown Group: Practice Accountant - Bournemouth - £38,000

£32000 - £38000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful accountancy practice in...

Day In a Page

Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor
How to make your own Easter egg: Willie Harcourt-Cooze shares his chocolate recipes

How to make your own Easter egg

Willie Harcourt-Cooze talks about his love affair with 'cacao' - and creates an Easter egg especially for The Independent on Sunday
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef declares barbecue season open with his twist on a tradtional Easter Sunday lamb lunch

Bill Granger's twist on Easter Sunday lunch

Next weekend, our chef plans to return to his Aussie roots by firing up the barbecue
Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

The England prop relives the highs and lows of last Saturday's remarkable afternoon of Six Nations rugby
Cricket World Cup 2015: Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?

Cricket World Cup 2015

Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?
The Last Word: Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing