Britain and Canada to share foreign embassies

AFP , Tuesday 25 Sep 2012

UK and Canada announce they will set up a number of joint diplomatic missions in a money saving exercise, beginning with Haiti

Canada's Foreign Minister John Baird speaks during news conference with Britain's Foreign Secretary William Hague on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Monday (Photo: Reuters)

Britain and Canada are to establish joint diplomatic missions and share embassy offices overseas in a bid to save money, the countries' foreign ministers announced jointly in Ottawa on Monday.

The arrangement will see the sharing of consular services in states where one of them does not have an embassy, Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird and British Foreign Secretary William Hague told reporters.

For now, it affects only Haiti, where a British diplomat will soon work out of Canada's embassy, and Myanmar, where a Canadian official has already set up an office in the British high commission.

But more locations will be announced later as Canada and Britain are looking to trim their foreign office budgets by more than $160 million each, they said.

"Although we don't agree on absolutely everything, we certainly find common ground on most important issues and we bring the same sets of values and principles to the table," Baird told reporters.

This agreement, he said, will allow the two countries to reduce costs and delays associated with setting up new embassies.

"The alternative is to waste months or years and many taxpayer dollars setting up embassies from scratch while keeping our diplomats from delivering services... abroad when and where they need the most," said Baird.

Critics, however, have said the two brands – Canada and Britain – are incompatible, and that this plan could weaken their respective global standing, an argument that Baird rebuffed.

"Each country will have complete independence on policies," he said.

Hague added: "It's not in any respect about any diplomat trying to work for two countries at the same time.

"It's the kind of practical cooperation which sensible foreign ministries take together in a world where there are more centers of decision-making than ever before and where we need to be present in more places than ever before."

Canada already has a similar arrangement with Australia.

Hague and Baird signed the agreement in Ottawa after Monday's press conference.

"As the prime minister said when addressing the Canadian parliament last year: 'We are two nations, but under one Queen and united by one set of values'," Hague said ahead of the meeting.

"We have stood shoulder to shoulder from the great wars of the last century to fighting terrorists in Afghanistan and supporting Arab Spring nations like Libya and Syria. We are first cousins."

Queen Elizabeth II is head of state in Canada, Australia and New Zealand as well as in other Commonwealth realms and Britain itself.


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