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30th May 2006 Lorna Shaddick

Britain’s Top Diplomat at Exeter

Sir Michael Jay, Foreign Office Permanent Under-Secretary and Head of the Diplomatic Service, visited Exeter College on Sunday 28th May to give an informative and extremely interactive address on the challenges and main concerns for the UK Foreign Office in the coming years.

Speaking to a Rector’s Drawing Room packed with College Fellows, MCR members and undergraduates, many of whom were international students, he began with an outline of the context of today’s particular foreign policy issues, from the end of the Second World War to the collapse of Communism and the new post-9/11 era, before going on to explain some of the FCO’s current strategic priorities. These he identified as counter-terrorism, conflict prevention and resolution, reducing climate change and building an effective European Union, but also stressed that with whom and how Britain would best work to achieve these goals was another key issue to be addressed.

Sir Michael went on to look in more detail at the shorter term issues of Iraq, Afghanistan and Iran, all of which are currently at the top of the foreign policy agenda. He then threw the floor open to questions from his audience, who proved to have interests ranging from the power of the American media to the difficulties of implementing democracy in Iraq, as well as freedom of information and the very topical question of Iranian nuclear development. Many audience members were also interested in his role as the Prime Minister’s chief negotiator at last summer’s G8 summit at Gleneagles, the results of which he summed up as being “less than I’d hoped but more than I’d feared.”

Sir Michael answered all questions in great detail, and while coming to the conclusion that the challenges faced by the UK and the West are as difficult as they have ever been, given the greater uncertainty of a world increasingly lacking in fixed points, he also conveyed great enthusiasm for the work being done at the Foreign Office, which, thanks to its increasing links with domestic policy over issues such as immigration, he described as “a very exciting and interesting place to be.” Sir Michael and his wife Lady Sylvia completed their visit to Exeter with a High Table meal in Hall.

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