Nigel Baker

Nigel Baker

Ambassador to the Holy See (2011-2016)

Part of UK in Holy See

10th March 2016

Archbishop Gallagher in the UK

Archbishop Gallagher visits the UK
(left) H.E. Archbishop Paul Gallagher, HM Ambassador Nigel Baker, Foreign Office Minister Baroness Anelay. London, March 2016

Last week I accompanied the Holy See Secretary for Relations with States, Archbishop Paul Gallagher, on a visit to the United Kingdom. He came at the invitation of the British government, so inevitably much of his time was taken up in official meetings with a wide range of government ministers. He visited five different Departments of State – the Foreign Office, the Northern Ireland Office, the Department for International Development, the Department for Energy and Climate Change, and the Home Office – which gives a good idea of the breadth of our bilateral engagement from human trafficking to sustainable development, human rights to the latest geo-political events in Latin America, Ukraine and the Middle East. He brought many of these international threads together in a speech at the Royal United Services Institute on Holy See ‘foreign policy’.

It was not all government. Archbishop Gallagher spent a lot of time in Parliament, where he was a guest of the All Party Parliamentary Group on the Holy See, and had the chance to bring himself up to date on the latest parliamentary debates and concerns (dominated, inevitably, by the European question). He also met Baroness Scotland, the next Secretary-General of the Commonwealth, to explore how the global Commonwealth and Holy See networks, which share so much in common, might work more productively together. And he spent time with churchmen – including the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster, and the Archbishop of Glasgow – to look at ways in which the Holy See, Anglican and domestic Catholic networks cooperate together.

What struck me during the visit was just how many points of contact and overlap there are between Britain and the Holy See. Archbishop Gallagher was right to stress the capacity limitations of his small team in the Vatican. I could say the same about my small embassy! But so much is already happening and the visit pointed the way to more possibilities – working together to tackle sexual violence in conflict in Africa, ways in which we might cooperate in preparing for the World Humanitarian Summit in Turkey in May, the role of British and Holy See international networks in delivering on the ground the results from the Paris Climate Change Summit, or a shared endeavour to abolish the death penalty worldwide. Our bilateral agenda remains very full.

All that said, my favourite appointment of the week was the very last. The Vatican Library has loaned a number of Botticelli drawings on the subject of Dante’s Divine comedy to the Victoria and Albert Museum for its current exhibition, ‘Botticelli Reimagined’. The V&A was keen to thank Archbishop Gallagher for the support, and it was wonderful to see the drawings in situ at the culmination of the exhibition. Much of our diplomacy, including with the Holy See, is hard-edged. But this was an example of another form of bilateral exchange, just as influential and significant (and, whisper it quietly, a lot more fun).

About Nigel Baker

Nigel was British Ambassador to the Holy See from 2011-2016. He presented his Credentials to Pope Benedict XVI on 9 September 2011, after serving 8 years in Latin America, as…

Nigel was British Ambassador to the Holy See from 2011-2016. He presented his Credentials to Pope Benedict XVI on 9 September 2011, after serving 8 years in Latin America, as Deputy Head of Mission in the British Embassy in Havana, Cuba (2003-6) and then as British Ambassador in La Paz, Bolivia (2007-11). In July 2016, Nigel finished his posting, and is currently back in London.

As the first British Ambassador to the Holy See ever to have a blog, Nigel provided a regular window on what the Embassy and the Ambassador does. The blogs covered a wide range of issues, from Royal and Ministerial visits to Diplomacy and Faith, freedom of religion, human trafficking and climate change.

More on Nigel’s career

Nigel was based in London between 1998 and 2003. He spent two years on European Union issues (for the UK 1998 EU Presidency and on European Security and Defence questions), before crossing St James’s Park to work for three years as The Assistant Private Secretary to His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales. At St James’s Palace, Nigel worked on international issues, including the management of The Prince of Wales’s overseas visits and tours, on the Commonwealth, interfaith issues, the arts and international development.

Nigel spent much of the early part of his FCO career in Central Europe, after an initial stint as Desk Officer for the Maghreb countries in the Near East and North Africa department (1990-91). Between 1992 and 1996, Nigel served in the British embassies in Prague and Bratislava, the latter being created in 1993 after the peaceful division of Czechoslovakia into the separate Czech and Slovak Republics.

Nigel joined the FCO (Foreign and Commonwealth Office) in September 1989. Between 1996 and 1998 he took a two year academic sabbatical to research and write about themes in 18th century European history, being based in Verona but also researching in Cambridge, Paris and Naples. The research followed from Nigel’s time as a student at Cambridge (1985-88) where he read history and was awarded a First Class Honours degree, followed by his MA in 1992.

Before joining the Foreign Office, Nigel worked briefly for the Conservative Research Department in London at the time of the 1989 European election campaign.

Nigel married Alexandra (Sasha) in 1997. They have one son, Benjamin, born in Bolivia in September 2008.

Read more