Those who once led the Foreign Office have unique insight into the UK’s place in the world. So how do they see our past and future, and what do they think of Boris Johnson?
Amid the prosaic setting of British politics, with its fusty civil servants and turgid party meetings, the secretary of state for foreign and commonwealth affairs stands out as the most glamorous of cabinet appointments. There’s the exotic travel, the hobnobbing with dignitaries, the adrenalin rush of serious global events – who cares about the campaign to stop the local post office closing down when you’ve got a vote at the UN security council to deal with. And there’s the sense, bolstered by your Foreign Office staff and the never less than precarious condition of international relations, that what you say and do actually matters.
Still, behind all the photocalls, the joint accords and bland diplomatic statements, what does a foreign secretary really do? After all, when it comes to the most critical foreign policy – military intervention – it’s the prime minister who’s in the hot seat. Although foreign secretary is one of the three great offices of state beneath that of the PM, it doesn’t enjoy the autonomy of chancellor or the isolation of home secretary – a ministry from which prime ministers are often all too keen to distance themselves. At the key moments, foreign policy is the preserve of No 10.