WILLIAM HAGUE has outlined the Government's vision of Britain's role in the world, promising a sweeping overhaul of foreign policy aimed at expanding the country's influence to every inhabited continent.
In his first major speech as Foreign Secretary Mr Hague stressed that while he wanted to maintain the strong relationship with the United States, it should "solid not slavish". There was a need for greater influence inside the EU and especially for closer alliances with its smaller, often overlooked member states. He stressed the importance of forming closer ties with "new and emerging powers" like India, China and Brazil and seeking new relationships with countries in Latin America.
A fresh start was necessary, said Mr Hague, to rectify 13 years of inaction in vital aspects of international relations by Labour governments.
"It became increasingly apparent to me the previous government had neglected to lift its eyes to the wider strategic interests of the country, to take stock of British interests, and to determine in a systematic fashion what we must do as a nation if we are to secure our international influence and earn our living in a world that is rapidly changing," said Mr Hague.
However his vision of expanded diplomatic engagement comes as the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO), in common with other government departments, has been ordered to slash its budget by 25 per cent. A Conservative former foreign secretary and two former senior civil servants warned yesterday of the damage to Britain's role abroad from the prospective cuts. Lord Howe of Aberavon, who was foreign secretary for six years in the 1980s, declared that instead of reducing funding the Foreign Office should receive increased funding. "A substantial enhancement of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office is fundamental to the successful conduct of foreign policy."
Lord Kerr of Kinlochard, head of the FCO from 1997 to 2002, added: "The fat on the diplomatic service is long gone. You can't wield the knife again without losing global reach and influence". Lord Butler of Brockwell, cabinet secretary for a decade from 1988, said: "I fear that we will do irreparable harm to one of Britain's greatest sources of overseas influence, the respect still felt for our diplomatic functions and our cultural activities overseas."
There were also doubts about Mr Hague's assertion that the Afghan government would be able to take over its own country's security by 2014. Senior Nato officers in Kabul once again warned against putting forward timelines, and, in London, Major-General Gordon Messenger, the British military's spokesman on the Afghan war, highlighted the ferocity of the fighting.
Mr Hague stressed that the UK should be more extensively engaged with the EU, reflecting the "Lib-Con" view rather than that of a large swathe of the Tory party. In particular, he said, there should be more UK officials in senior roles to promote British interests in Brussels.
The Foreign Secretary accused Labour of creating a "generation gap" during the party's time in power by failing to ensure there were enough civil servants of British nationality in the EU's corridors of power. The UK accounted for 12 per cent of the EU population, but only 1.8 per cent of the staff, he claimed.
Mr Hague stressed that Britain's bonds with America were "unbreakable" and remained the country's most important bilateral relationship. However the partnership should be "solid but not slavish". In the past he said, "British politicians and British leaders have been so preoccupied by those ties that they have neglected to build the wider relationships in the world".
The Foreign Secretary continued: "The real economic action in the world has been taking place in Brazil and India and China and the Gulf states and those are the places to which we have to connect ourselves much …