On March the 20th, the Global Governance students had the pleasure to have the UK Ambassador to Italy and San Marino to host a Global Conversation – “Future of European Defense and Security” – at the Faculty of Economics of the University of Rome Tor Vergata.
The Ambassador was then kind enough to agree on an interview for The Global Observer, that addressed many more matters other than those covered during the Conversation.
1. Being the first woman holding this office, do you feel a particular burden or pressure?
Does the Foreign Office keep it up with our changing society, with respect to gender
More than 40% of the FCO (Foreign and Commonwealth Office) staff is composed of women and there are more and more women in leading roles. I am honoured to be one of the 59 women currently serving as Heads of Post and I am confident that the number is set to increase in the future. The Foreign Office values greatly diversity and equality and our Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson is personally committed to the protection of women’s rights and the empowerment and education of women and girls.
In 2017 the appointed Joanna Roper as the FCO’s first Special Envoy for Gender Equality. We had the great pleasure to host Joanna in Italy last year for the first G7 ministerial dedicated to gender equality. In 2018 Minister Johnson, knowing that girls’ education can solve many of the world’s problems, launched a “Platform for Girls’ Education” that encourages world and Commonwealth leaders to promote 12 years of quality education for girls. The UK pledged £212 million (€240,4 million) to ensure education to 1 million girls by 2030. Last April during the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM), representatives of the Commonwealth Countries identified the greatest challenges for women during the Women’s Forum and encouraged leaders to take action. Since my arrival in Rome in July 2016, we created a “Women and Girls Policy Group” at the Embassy with the objective of promoting women’s education and access to work, and tackling violence against women. We recently launched our “Women in” series which aims at highlighting the important contributions made by women in fields and positions normally occupied by men: from law enforcement to finance. I believe it is important for young girls to see women in leading roles, to be inspired by these figures and to feel free to choose a career path which is just as ambitious.
2. Regarding the issue of Facebook profiles being used for voter-profiling during the
Brexit , which may or may not have influenced the final result, what do you think of the
relationship between data/technology/social media and democracy?
In an increasingly digital world, it is essential for people to know that their personal data will be protected. In the United Kingdom we have an Information Commissioner: Elizabeth Denham. She makes sure that companies are transparent about data usage and that the data is protected against cyber-attacks. As part of broader scrutiny, she is already looking into the use of personal data during political campaigns. It is important that the public is comfortable with how information is gathered, used and shared in modern political campaigns. The British Parliament is currently in the process of approving a new Data Protection Bill which will strengthen legislation around data protection and give the Information Commissioner increased powers to ensure that organizations comply. This new piece of legislation will give people more control over their data and will ensure that the UK is ready for an increasingly digital future, in accordance with EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). That being said, when properly used, data can be incredibly useful and I think social media is a powerful tool which everyone – including diplomats – can use in a positive and engaging way.
3. During your talk you mentioned that many British people perceive the EU and Europe
as two different entities, but in many other European countries there is no such distinction between the two. Why do you think there is such a difference in perspectives?
There are different possible explanations for this. Throughout the centuries the UK focused its attention both to its continental neighbours and to the countries of the Atlantic and the Pacific, with the Commonwealth being the legacy of that interest. For political, geographical and commercial reasons, the UK was present both in Europe and in the rest of the world. We feel European for cultural, historical, identity reasons. At the same time we are also very attached to our own institutions and traditions. We joined the European project later than some of our European partners and we have always maintained strong contacts with other countries around the world. We cultivated a special relationship with the United States and we maintained close ties with the countries of the Commonwealth, as shown by the long tradition of Commonwealth
Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) and more than 80 organisations that link our
countries. While some wish to build a “United States of Europe” we prefer to maintain our sovereign independent decision-making power while engaging in cooperation and trade. However, it is important to stress the fact that we are leaving the European Union, but we are European in our values, in our hearts, in our traditions. We remain strongly committed to working with our partners in the EU, including Italy, to further the values of democracy, human rights, equality and security which we all share.
4. France has requested the UK to accept more migrants and to increase its economic
contribution for border security in Nord Pas de Calais; do you think the UK is doing
enough to help out in the European refugee crisis?
The UK is helping in managing the European refugee crisis in several ways. Firstly, with regard to border patrolling, we are cooperating directly with France. Last January Theresa May and Emmanuel Macron signed the Sandhurst Treaty, which increases border controls on both sides of the Channel by British and French police forces. The Treaty also increases funding by £44.5 million (€ 51.5 million), it speeds up the processing of legal migrants and it helps France to relocate asylum seekers away from the border and in more comfortable areas in the country.
Secondly, the UK is seeking to resolve the humanitarian crises and conflicts that lead citizens to leave their country of origin. We are providing humanitarian aid in Syria – in our largest ever response to a single humanitarian crisis – and our estimates suggests that Jordan and Ethiopia will be able to create more than 100.000 jobs thanks to our funding. Thirdly, we are cooperating with our European partners in patrolling the Mediterranean, with the objective to interrupt the human trafficking business that leads to the death of many people off Italy’s coast. Finally, we are collaborating with other EU members in the relocation of asylum seekers from Italy, Greece and France. It emerges clearly from our actions that the priority for the UK is to help people, save their lives and protect human rights.
5. Regarding the situation in Syria, do you think there would be the need of a European
intervention at a humanitarian level, and/or a resumption of the diplomatic negotiations
with Assad? Do you think this is an example of how collaboration can ensure peace and
security at a global level?
Syria is currently facing one of the worst humanitarian crises of all times. The UK is providing assistance to Syrian people. We operate with the Global Coalition (a group of 74 countries united against Daesh) through 1,400 military personnel who have the mandate to: support local military forces, prevent foreign terrorist fighters from arriving in the region, stabilize liberated areas, engage in counter propaganda and interrupt Daesh financing networks. On the humanitarian side, we are the third largest bilateral donor with more than £2.46 billion (€2.8 billion). With this money, we are able to provide food, medicines and other basic goods.
Unfortunately, global initiatives like the ceasefire called for by UN Security council last February (resolution 2401/2018) also need the cooperation of local authorities to be effective. By now it is very clear that it is not possible to cooperate with Assa’ad, a president who has been killing ruthlessly his own people for the last 8 years. Syria deserves a new government that comes from the people and that works for the people. The UK will continue to act within the framework of UN resolutions, in close contact with our NATO partners and European allies.
6. Do you think a more direct democracy – that might be possible thanks to new arising
technologies, as the e-voting – would be a possible solution to the democratic deficit many think we are now facing, mostly due to the widespread distrust in political institutions and the whole representation system? Or do you think it would lead to the upsurge of populist feelings that have already started spreading around the Western countries?
As an Ambassador, a representative of the British government in Italy, I am not responsible for policy choices. Certainly, government platforms that provide services and information to citizens are a great innovation and an opportunity for citizens to feel closer to their institutions. We closely monitor all opportunities as we work to promote democracy in the world. If new technologies prove themselves a valuable instrument for democracy, the UK will embrace them.
For more information on the topics of this interview, you can visit the following links:
Commonwealth Women’s Forum https://www.chogm2018.org.uk/womens-forum
The progress of the data protection bill in Parliament https://services.parliament.uk/bills/2017-19/dataprotection.html
The Commonwealth http://thecommonwealth.org/
The Sandhurst treaty https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/674885/Treaty_Concerning_the_Reinforcement_Of_Cooperation_For_The_Coordinated_Management_Of_Their_Shared_Border.pdf
Overview of UK humanitarian intervention in Syria
The Embassy’s podcast http://spreaker.com/ukinitaly
If you want to follow the Embassy on social media
Facebook: UKinItaly – Twitter: @UKinItaly (in English) @UKinItalia (in italian)
Jill Morris, on Twitter @JillMorrisFCO and Instagram JillMorrisFCO
The interview was prepared thanks to the collaboration of Selene Grube and Ludovica Vallati, and conducted through email.
“I love argument, I love debate. I don’t expect anyone just to sit there and agree with me.”
Hello. My name is Sara. Incurable optimist, curious of the human race, coffee and sarcasm lover. I strongly believe in serendipity. If you want to know more, please ask.
ps. I make a perfectly respectable cheesecake – just in case you were wondering.