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The new Foreign Secretary has a very different job description


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The new Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson, now faces the mammoth task of repairing Britain’s reputation as an out-going, ambitious world power. The world media has presented the Brexit vote as an inclusive and anti-global move by the British people, and now it is down to Johnson to spin this version of events in Britain’s favour.

He has a long list of jobs that need completing as soon as possible and I do not envy the position he is in; however, I would like to question whether his list as long as his predecessors. With the appointment of a Secretary of State for Exiting the EU and a Secretary of State for International Trade, has the Foreign Office’s remit been dramatically reduced?

Traditionally, the Foreign Secretary is responsible for representing British interests across the world, promoting British trade, diplomacy and dealing with the biggest international issues that involve Britain.

However, with David Davis being appointed Brexit Secretary, Boris will have little responsibility in terms of drawing up EU exit negotiations. He will also probably not be the senior minister that foreign governments will want to speak to when arranging relations with the UK. On the other hand, we may see that even if Johnson is not always at the negotiating table, he will most likely be the minister who will be ‘doing the rounds’ with photo opportunities at all of the EU nation’s parliaments.

As I mentioned before, the Foreign Secretary is traditionally the member of cabinet who travells the world urging states to trade more with Britain and reduce trade barriers as much as possible – but Liam Fox will now carry out this duty as the International Trade Secretary. So, Johnson’s responsibilities on this matter have been drastically reduced.

I would argue, though, that Theresa May was right to appoint two new cabinet positions to the remit of Brexit, because I believe that the EU exit is too big of a task for a single department, let alone a single minister. Boris may find it a gift to be relieved of spearheading Brexit negotiations when we consider the tasks he has ahead of him.

This morning Boris attended his first EU Foreign Affairs Council, where the ministers discussed a number of tasks that Boris – alongside others – will be responsible for undertaking. Situations in Libya and Syria, the relations with Cuba, the peace process in Colombia, the constitutional issues in China and the EU migrant crisis were all on the agenda.

This is the first time we’ve seen Boris’ personal opinion being important in his role as Foreign Sec. In the past he has argued for reduced sanctions on Russia and a change in strategy in Ukraine. He has also voiced his support for Tehran gaining nuclear weapons capability and supported touched on subjects such as Britain being part of the Saudi-led offensive in Yemen, and Britain providing further economic aid for Iran, whilst the country plunders further in to economic depths.

Prior to the meeting a number of critics were also asking whether Boris would be as friendly with China as George Osborne was before he was axed from cabinet.

Johnson has a series of priorities ahead of him, and of course the office he holds is still as prestigious and challenging as it ever was. I believe the position of Foreign Secretary has not necessarily become any lighter, but rather focused on different matters. Johnson will still have responsibility for MI6 and GCHQ, he will still represent British interests abroad and will still have a seat at the EU council of Ministers.

His new role requires delicate diplomacy and intricate negotiations. Whether they are Johnson’s talents, only time will tell; but, if the new Foreign Secretary wants to promote the British image then I could not think of a better person with the PR skills and likability necessary to do so.

But, Foreign policy has been directed by Downing Street for decades and I cannot imagine Theresa May giving Boris Johnson complete control of Britain’s Foreign policy direction. We may see Boris become a super ambassador, whilst Fox and Davis get bogged down in the messy detail of the EU exit.

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