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Leaving the EU: Diplomatic Network

Volume 655: debated on Tuesday 26 February 2019

On 31 October, I announced the largest expansion of our diplomatic network for a generation. It involves opening 14 new diplomatic posts and 335 additional personnel overseas, and it will raise the number of sovereign missions to 161, second only to the USA and China.

I have seen at first hand the value of our missions around the world to raising our global aspirations, so I particularly welcome the announcement of the new posts and missions in Africa. What thought has been given to ensuring that those roles work across trade, diplomacy and development?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right to ask that question, particularly about Africa, where the high commissioner or ambassador is the most senior person on the ground and has people from all Government Departments in the UK reporting to him. Making sure that we have a one-Government approach to our diplomacy will be a central part of our new fusion doctrine.

Does the Foreign Secretary intend to continue sanctions against those persons, groups and entities currently subject to EU sanctions?

Does my right hon. Friend agree that this newly strengthened diplomatic network should work in tandem with our soft power influences, such as using 40 Commando, based in Taunton Deane, to be rushed out in times of natural disasters or hurricanes, as happened in the Caribbean? Working together, we can really demonstrate the qualities of this great nation.

I thank my hon. Friend, the consul for Taunton Deane. On the expansion of the diplomatic network, among the 14 new overseas posts will be three new resident commissioners, in Antigua and Barbuda, in Grenada and in St Vincent the Grenadines, which I hope might be of interest to colleagues thinking about their careers.

When the hon. Lady is not in Taunton Deane, she could trog around some of those territories if she were so inclined.

As the chair of the all-party parliamentary group for Africa, I welcome the expanded network. Following our recent constructive meeting with the Immigration Minister, may I urge the Secretary of State to meet her to see how the network can be used to support cultural and business exchanges between African countries and the UK, and particularly to provide the local knowledge that is essential for visa applications, which remain a matter of huge concern?

The hon. Lady is absolutely right to say that if we are going to get this right we have to combine all that we do, particularly in terms of our soft power. The British Council has an immensely important role in Africa. In particular, we need to be better at joining up the work between the Department for International Development and the Foreign Office, and that is why we are proud to have joint Ministers on the Front Bench to ensure that that happens.