“Another country – not the one I represented as a diplomat for 30 years” – Byline Times
Alexandra Hall Hall, who resigned from the Foreign Office over Brexit lies, now believes Britain’s unease runs much deeper than that or Boris Johnson
It has often been said that British diplomats are not sufficiently representative of the country we are here to serve. But perhaps there is a reverse problem: the country we represented is not really who we thought it was to begin with.
The lingering feeling that the UK might not be the bastion of democracy, human rights and good governance that it had always claimed to be had gripped me for a while. However, it was easy to put those thoughts aside as long as I kept busy representing our country abroad.
Issues such as the questionable basis of the Iraq war, our potential complicity in the mistreatment of detainees; the reports highlighting poverty, inequality and other issues in the UK were certainly all worrying. I was aware that our system was not perfect. But I have never fundamentally questioned its fundamental structures.
As I have said to myself and to those with whom I have engaged abroad, democracies are correcting themselves. We can fail sometimes, but we had strong institutions, checks and balances, freedom of information, expression and association, and the ability to learn from our mistakes. We were on the whole a decent and reasonable country, whose rulers respected political norms and conventions.
My confidence was seriously shaken by Brexit, when many politicians, including government ministers, made shameless false statements about the costs and benefits of staying in the EU versus leaving the EU, and on the implications of the different options available to us. Ultimately, this resulted in my resignation from the Foreign Office in 2019, when I realized that I could no longer promote the government’s “half-truths” with a straight face.
Our current government is the most incompetent and selfish administration I can remember … neither removing Johnson nor canceling Brexit will get us back on track.
Since then, I have watched our country’s trajectory with dismay, as the government has continued to downplay the costs of Brexit, overlook its impact on citizens and businesses and increasingly streamline its approach; struggle inconsistently with covid; and tipping from scandal to scandal.
But I was triggered last week by the announcement of the Kazakh president’s policy of shooting to kill protesters demonstrating against his regime last week. Indeed, our Minister of Foreign Affairs, Liz Truss, was quick to denounce the violence. Yet it immediately reminded me that this violence was taking place in a country whose kleptocratic rulers were using British financial services and institutions to launder ill-gotten gains. We were of course not actively promoting repression, but we were undoubtedly indirectly complicit.
This made me think about other areas where there is a gap between our words and our actions.
- We encourage electoral reform in other countries, even though our own system produces very biased results in which less than 50% of the vote consistently produces governments with large majorities; and includes an unelected upper chamber.
- We criticize cronyism in other countries, while major donors here are awarded knights, juicy contracts and other sinecures.
- We campaign for corruption to be eradicated abroad as money from kleptocratic regimes flows through our system.
- We lecture on foreign standards of governance, although there is no truly independent mechanism to hold our own ministers to account.
- We advise other countries on their constitutions, although we do not have a written constitution ourselves.
- We urge other countries to work constructively with political opponents, but to take a win-win approach in our parliament.
- We support a global arms trade treaty, but sell weapons to countries with questionable human rights records.
Make a mockeryI witnessed Boris Johnson Relaxed attitude towards Yemeni lives
The problems have worsened and the hypocrisy more apparent under this government.
We encourage respect for minority concerns in other countries, but this government has adopted Brexit despite its majority rejection in Scotland and Northern Ireland.
We demand that other countries respect international law, although our government threatens to renege on its own deal with the EU. We encourage conflict resolution and frequently offer to share ‘best practices’ from the Good Friday deal, as the government pursues a form of Brexit recently described by GFA negotiator Jonathan Powell as ‘political vandalism’, for the damage it causes to the delicate balance. in Northern Ireland.
The government urges other countries to treat migrants with dignity, but is doing its best to prevent refugees from coming here. The government demands that other nations comply with rulings of the European Court of Human Rights, but seeks to reduce the influence of the same court in the UK. The government supports independent justice systems, respect for the rule of law and human rights abroad while proposing new laws here allowing it to overturn court decisions it does not like, reduce the power of judicial review and weaken human rights law. He deplores the suppression of demonstrations abroad but introduces measures to restrict demonstrations in his country.
The list is lengthened increasingly.
Meanwhile, to cover up its failures, the government wraps itself in the flag of bogus “patriotism” and superficial gimmicks – co-opting the Queen, the national anthem, the military, WWII, pint glasses, and more. . so-called enemies – the French, the Irish or the EU, to the detriment of the attention paid to much more serious and genuine international challenges, such as those posed by China or Russia. All critics are dismissed as “awakened leftists”, “embittered remnants” or “enemies of the people”.
Yet hardly any of this is seriously covered in the UK press. Instead, the populace is distracted and entertained with an endless diet of anecdotes, wellness stories, and gossip about royalty, toffs, sports stars, and celebrities. Even political reporting seems largely reduced to personal drama and “he said, she said” intrigue, rather than a detailed analysis of the real issues at stake. Much of the tabloid press is openly partisan, with little distinction between factual reporting and political commentary.
FEARLESS AND INDEPENDENT JOURNALISM
& INCREDIBLE VALUE
Receive the monthly Signing time newspaper and quality support, investigative report.
Our current government is the most incompetent and interested administration I can remember. Some think Boris Johnson is the problem; some think Brexit is the problem. I now believe that both are symptoms of a deeper malaise within our system and that neither the removal of Johnson nor the reversal of Brexit will get us back on track.
It is high time to rethink our own democracy. And while I have no personal animosity towards the Royal Family and have been proud to be a faithful servant of the Crown throughout my career, I think it has to start from the top – to start to dismantle the inherited system of deference, class and privilege that permeates our society, and inhibits change.
Critics will say I’m making ridiculous comparisons. They will say – in no way can the UK be compared to some of the autocracies we like to criticize. Of course, there is no danger that this country will sink into authoritarianism. We are the land of the Magna Carta. We have fought two world wars to defend freedoms. British experts have helped establish and run many of the world’s most important institutions. Global Britain is ‘a force for good’. But if it has ever been true once, I wonder if it remains true now. Complacency and apathy are the death of democracy.
Critics will also say that I am a bit late in the game – only now acknowledging the system flaws that I myself have been enjoying for so long. A point that I recognize. But I have taken the red pill now.
Alexandra Hall Hall is a former British diplomat with over 30 years of experience, with posts in Bangkok, Washington, Delhi, Bogota and Tbilisi. She resigned from the Foreign Office in December 2019 because she felt unable to represent the government’s position on Brexit with integrity.
OUR JOURNALISM COUNTS ON YOU
Signing time is funded by its subscribers. Receive our monthly print edition and help support fearless, independent journalism.
Thank you for reading this article
New to Signing time? Please find more information about us here
SUBSCRIBE TO THE PRINT EDITION
A new kind of newspaper – independent, fearless, outside the system. Fund better media.
Don’t miss a story …
Our main investigations include Brexit, the Empire and the Culture Wars, Russian meddling, the coronavirus, cronyism and far-right radicalization. We’re also introducing new color voices in Our Lives Matter.