Throughout the past two centuries, the post of Foreign Secretary has – beside that of Prime Minister – been the grandest and the most cherished by ambitious politicians, wrote Peter Oborne in “After years of shameful neglect, William Hague has restored the Foreign Office to its proper dignity,” Daily Telegraph, London, 11 August 2011.
“The Foreign Office was one of the great departments of state, with the position of its superb Gilbert Scott building in the heart of Whitehall speaking eloquently about Britain’s position in the world,” he adds.
The reader may well wonder what this has to do with Australia. The historical fact is that until well into the Second World War, the Foreign Office was our Foreign Office too. It had also been the Foreign Office of most of the Commonwealth and the Empire – about one quarter of the world.
This may well irritate some of us, but we cannot rewrite history. We became independent well before that. Our independence probably came somewhere between 1919, when we signed the Treaty of Versailles and became a full member of the predecessor of the United Nations, the League of Nations and 1926, the date of the Balfour Declaration when the full equality of the Dominions, now the Realms, with the United Kingdom was recognized.
…delegation of powers to London…
The fact that we allowed the United Kingdom to exercise some legal powers on our behalf does not affect the fact that we were independent.
Canada, for example, did not have the formal power to amend its constitution until 1982. The British gave us that in 1901. Why? We asked for it; the Canadians did not. That we could amend our consttiution is why the late High Court Justice Lionel Murphy traced our independence back to 1901.
Our states left certain formal legal powers with the British until 1986 for the simple reason that they trusted the British politicians more than the our politicians in Canberra. With the personal intervention of The Queen of Australia, the solution which eluded all Australian politicians emerged in 1986 through the Australia Acts. In any event, like it or not, until the early 40s the Foreign Office in London was ours too.
This delegation of powers did not compromise our independence. We were always free to claim them.
…"barbaric, near criminal act"…
If in recent years the British ran down this institution, that is to be lamented, but it is their business. But there are aspects of our common heritage in which we have an interest in which should not be trashed.The horrifying aspect of this piece is not so much the running down of the status the Foreign Office and the extraordinary closing of its language school but what Peter Oborn refers to as “a barbaric and near-criminal act.”
This was when the former Foreign Secretary, David Miliband “ordered the closure of the Foreign Office library, containing the records of 500 years of Britain’s overseas entanglements, including the original copies of all our treaties. This institution was described by Gladstone’s foreign secretary, Lord Granville, as’“the pivot on which the whole machinery of the Office turned’.
“ Recently,” writes PeterOborne “ I inspected its empty shelves, their contents having been dispersed, some turning up on eBay: it was both too sad for words, and a piquant symbol of New Labour’s neglect of the lessons of history, for which British soldiers have paid such a price in Afghanistan and Iraq.”
That was and is an institution which was not only British but which was that of all the Commonwealth, and not only Australia.
…and the Commonwealth…
We should not be surprised by this "barbaric and near criminal act" by the former Foreign Secretary. As we have written here on several occasions, he had little regard for the Commonwealth.
In our latest piece,in Britain and the Commonwealth: And beware our negligent republicans, 7 April 2011, we pointed out that the total budget of the Commonwealth is £50 million (note, that is millions not billions). That did not stop Mr. David Miliband in 2009 warning, as Foreign Secretary that continuing political and financial support for the Commonwealth could no longer be taken for granted.
Why? He said the Commonwealth is not one of those “strong, effective international institutions … with formal power" – like the EU of which he was so beloved.
…contrast the EU..
So what does it cost the UK to belong to the European Union? As you can imagine, the answer to this is disputed. The Bruges Group estimated that in 2007 this was £52.4 billion each year. That is over 1000 times that of the Commonwealth.
In fact the EU is precisely the sort of model which other regions ought to avoid if they wish to achieve real progress.
Common currencies and ”ever-closer” bureaucratic unions are recipes for trade distortion, stagnation and corruption.
And the British people have never shown any interest in this. The United Kingdom would be better off were she to abandon the European Union and return her attention to the Commonwealth and the Anglosphere.