It all sounds more like a script from a new Carry On film rather than a political masterstroke. Not only do we have to contend with the hapless Dominic Raab as Foreign Secretary, we apparently now have a list of our brightest and best to truly show off Global Britain. The raft of new trade envoys announced by Trade Secretary Liz Truss to great fanfare might make those with the appropriate education in international relations wonder why they bothered studying in the first place.
Ashes to envoys
The main headline is that Beefy Botham is responsible for our trade relations with Australia. Beef is probably the last word that our farmers want to hear in light of the new Australian trade deal which puts their very existence in jeopardy. At least the deal gives them fifteen years to learn how to drive a lorry or perhaps take over from the prisoners working in our abattoirs.
What people don’t seem to be asking is why someone whose whole career was geared to beating the Australians at cricket would be seen as someone to help smooth the machinations of international trade between our two countries. Perhaps it’s to be hoped that most Australians won’t have a clue who he is (after all he did retire from the sport in 1993) and he’ll concentrate on talking about his wine business. At least the trade deal should make it more profitable for him to import wine from Australia. Oh, hang on, whose envoy is he? Anyway, enough sour, sweet or alcoholic grapes about Lord Botham. Let’s move on, especially as Ms Truss has already cracked the “bat for our country” joke.
With this Hoey you are spoiling us
Next on the list comes Lady Hoey. Yes, Kate Hoey, former MP and Brexit cheerleader, now as unhappy as most with the Northern Ireland Protocol. I’ve no idea what Ghana has done to deserve her (thankfully the country is free of sectarian divisions but nonetheless one hopes Hoey will keep her matches away), but I wonder if the people of Ireland are breathing a sigh of relief that her energy will be used elsewhere, especially after once being accused of taking diplomacy lessons from Donald Trump. Perhaps this appointment – and that of DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson in Cameroon – might help stop exacerbating the problems their pro-Brexit stance has caused by averting their gaze away from the Northern Ireland Protocol.
No-one would ever suggest that trade envoys should be elected. In reality, these “unelected bureaucrats” like Lord Botham and Lady Hoey can be seen simply as following in the footsteps of people like Prince Andrew and doing their duty for the country. The roles are honorary and unpaid, after all. However, many on this list are indeed elected. That’s elected to do a job as an MP. Now they’re being asked to do additional duties which might take them far and wide, hardly helping to facilitate dealing with the problems of their constituents. There again, we’re talking about a government hell bent on making it as difficult as possible to trade with our neighbours whilst trying to forge deeper links with countries the other side of the world.
Carry on camping
When it comes to gay MPs, the Tories surprisingly lead the way, with 23 to Labour’s 21, although the Tories are exclusively gay men. David Mundell and Conor Burns have been given responsibility for New Zealand and Canada respectively and, at first glance, this would seem a lot more sensible than giving either the remit for places like Cameroon or Egypt. These countries get the aforementioned Sir Jeffrey Donaldson. But why not give a gay man a homophobic country to deal with so human rights issues can be dealt with head on? Surely diplomatic immunity would make it safer for the role to be carried out and at the same time allow the envoy to ask some difficult questions. With Lady Hoey’s rather patchy record on LGBT rights, I doubt she’ll focus on Ghana’s current attempt to criminalise not only LGBT people but also their allies with prison sentences of up to ten years.
Trade envoys have always come from a wide range, so the list also includes a Labour MP, Stephen Timms who becomes trade envoy for both Switzerland and the increasingly important microstate of Liechtenstein (frequently mentioned by the government in these post-EU times). However, why it is now mentioned so often rather confuses me. After all, its GDP is around £5bn and its tiny population of around 38,000 is about a tenth the size of Dudley.
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The boys from Brazil
Speaking of Dudley, that brings us nicely to the regional interest. Dudley MP Marco Longhi in particular. Who better to do the honours in Brazil? After all, he actually used to work in the country, even meeting his wife there. Who knows, this appointment might even have some merit as the newly elected MP climbs the greasy pole of politics. Although I’ve never met Mr Longhi in person, my spies tell me he might just be the sort of man to get on famously with President Bolsinaro. Of course, my spies might be wrong.
The list continues, but surely the real conundrum for all the new appointees will be the vexed question of what we can actually sell to these countries. How can other countries have any faith in the promises made by our envoys when they can clearly see that we can’t even move goods around our own country? Nando’s has had to close down due to a lack of chicken and McDonald’s has ran out of milkshakes?
Much more importantly, how will leaving EU standards organisations and “taking back control” work? Will goods made in GB still have the same quality and cachet as those with a CE mark? Some of the countries to which the envoys have been allocated are former British colonies, still trying to come to terms with their colonial past. Maybe Brexit now makes it possible for us to sell a new range of Union Flags which can actually burn since we no longer have to follow EU Fire Regulations.
Seemingly not all is lost. According to the Express, it appears the extra Air-miles that will no doubt be earned by these new trade envoys will come to very little and hopefully won’t do any harm. Amazingly, the Express actually decided to ask an actual expert on such matters. How times change!
Anyway, here’s wishing them all “the best of British”, carry on and safe travels. Deep down, part of me wonders if this is an elaborate plan by Ms Truss to rub the noses of some of these new envoys in the mess of their own making. But that’s more likely to be wishful thinking and now it’s much more likely her main aim is to concentrate on a new trade deal with Afghanistan which will surprise us all and counter all of the money we’ve lost not trading with our neighbours due to Brexit.