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Politics & press news – – Embassy 17 – June 2009

FCO backtracks on gagging of ex-envoys

The Foreign Office has abandoned a Diplomatic Service Regulation issued in 2006, which imposed a lifelong obligation on ex-diplomats to seek written permission from the Foreign Office before making any media appearance.

The rule was quietly dropped after a storm of protest by ex-envoys and officials in King Charles Street realised it was unenforceable.

Instead, the latest regulations say the Foreign Office “welcomes debate” and recognises a “public interest in allowing former officials to write accounts of their time in government”.

Sir Edward Clay, formerly Britain’s High Commissioner in Kenya and Uganda and a loud critic of the gagging order, hailed a victory in a “battle against the little tyrants of their fields” and said: “The Foreign Office has realised it can’t stop retired officers commenting on matters of public interest in which they have expertise.”

Restrictions were imposed by Jack Straw largely due to a knee-jerk reaction to former British Ambassador to Washington Sir Christopher Meyer’s memoirs, which were not complimentary of Tony Blair and a host of Labour ministers.

Despite the climb down by the FCO, retired diplomats still have an obligation to preserve confidentiality and seek clearance for any memoirs and all are bound by the Official Secrets Act.
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