UK to recruit 1,000 more diplomatic staff to maintain international clout after Brexit, Jeremy Hunt to announce

Foreign secretary will also promise new embassies and a doubling of diplomats who speak the local language

Rob Merrick
Deputy Political Editor
Tuesday 30 October 2018 23:30 GMT
What does a no-deal Brexit mean?

Jeremy Hunt will vow to recruit 1,000 more diplomatic staff and boost their language skills, as he fights warnings that Brexit will weaken Britain’s international clout.

In a major speech, the foreign secretary will promise “the biggest expansion of Britain’s diplomatic network for a generation”, opening new embassies in Africa and South East Asia.

There will also be a doubling of diplomats who speak the local language to 1,000, Mr Hunt will say – and an increase in the number of languages the Foreign Office teaches, from 50 to 70.

The move follows warnings that leaving the EU will inevitably diminish Britain’s influence. One former head of the diplomatic service said other countries believed the UK had “lost the plot”.

The Foreign Office has also been criticised for earlier plans to hollow out embassies around the world, in order to fund diplomatic posts in Europe.

Now Mr Hunt, appointed in July, will insist the fears are misplaced, insisting the UK after Brexit can be an “invisible chain that links the world’s democracies”.

And he will argue its role will be badly needed, when “our democratic values are arguably under greater threat than at any time since the fall of the Berlin Wall”

Mr Hunt will say: “Our network of friendships is unparalleled. But they are underpinned by something more than shared history, shared language or shared culture.

“They are underpinned by the values - democracy, the rule of law, the separation of powers, respect for individual civil and political rights, a belief in free trade - that bind us.

“When these values are under threat, Britain’s role – indeed obligation – is to defend them. Which is why to do so, we must become an invisible chain linking the world’s democracies.”

The promise of a “network of friendships” comes after Mr Hunt’s gaffe, at the Tory party conference, when he likened the EU to “a prison” in the Soviet Union.

Donald Tusk, the European Council president, accused him of “insulting” people who survived the horrors of communism and there were calls for him to resign.

Meanwhile, Theresa May’s promise to achieve a new “Global Britain” outside the EU has been branded “mushy thinking” and just a “slogan”.

In February, Sir Simon Fraser, the former Foreign Office permanent under-secretary, told MPs: “A lot of countries think, for the time being, that we have slightly lost the plot in terms of where we intend to go.”

But, in his speech to the Policy Exchange think-tank on Wednesday evening, Mr Hunt will confirm plans for 12 new diplomatic positions abroad, in addition to nearly 1,000 extra personnel.

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They will include 335 diplomatic posts overseas, 328 new roles in London, and 329 new “locally engaged” staff, he will say.

A new embassy will open in Dijibouti, in East Africa, the British Office in Chad will be upgraded to a full embassy and a mission will open at the headquarters of the Association of South-East Asian Nations, in Indonesia.

The 20 extra languages the Foreign Office will teach will vary from the Central Asian tongues of Kazakh and Kyrgyz, to Shona in Zimbabwe and Gujarati in India.

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