28th June 2016
Completing the mission
On 23 June I was given the honour, along with my family, of a farewell audience with Pope Francis. It was not the moment to discuss political or global developments, but to make reference to the depth and importance of the modern relationship between Britain and the Holy See. Characteristically, His Holiness chose to encapsulate that in remarks about The Queen, whom he characterised as someone who has reigned “with great dignity”.
After five years at the Holy See, I shall be moving to London to take up a new appointment at the Foreign & Commonwealth Office focusing on the Americas. The end of a diplomatic mission is always time for reflection. There have been high points (too many to list, but they would include my presentation of credentials to Pope Benedict XVI in September 2011, the visit of a delegation of 7 British government ministers in March 2012, the Conclave that elected Pope Francis in 2013, the visit of The Queen in April 2014, the celebration of the Centenary of the re-establishment of bilateral relations in December 2014, and the wonderful Globe production of Hamlet earlier this year). The embassy has managed to make substantial progress working with the Holy See on a wide range of international issues, from the geo-political (Ukraine, the Middle East, Latin America, West and Central Africa) to the strategic (human rights and the role of women, limiting the arms trade, tackling climate change, joining forces against human trafficking). This has helped to generate enthusiasm and better understanding of the bilateral relationship at the heart of government, with 20 working visits by ministers from across Whitehall over five years, regular exchanges with Members of Parliament, and Archbishop Gallagher’s reciprocal Guest of Government visit to London in March this year.
At the same time, on departure from post it is often the more personal memories that leave the greatest sense of satisfaction. Helping to ensure a place at a General Audience for someone who is terminally ill but whose lifelong dream has been to meet the Pope. Supporting the visit of someone as courageous as Mike Haines, brother of David Haines murdered by Daesh terrorists, working in the cause of inter-religious harmony. The friendships developed with many Holy See and Pontifical officials, academics and religious, who have always been kind enough to welcome the British ambassador and work with us. Facilitating important exchanges by English choirs or British Catholic or Muslim students, and getting to know them over a drink or a meal. And the positive and generous response from our many contacts on social media, right across the world, to the efforts of the embassy to explain what we are doing in a wider world.
My successor, Sally Axworthy, will arrive in Rome in August. She has a wonderful embassy team to work with, as well as many people of great goodwill towards the United Kingdom here at the Vatican and in the wider Holy See network who I know will be keen to pick up where I and my predecessors have left off. Ambassadors play their part, but all bilateral relationships between countries or states are far bigger than any one individual. My very best wishes to Sally. My gratitude to all the patient readers of this blog over five years. And my thanks for the privilege of having been able to serve as the British representative accredited to two great Popes, and to the world’s most extensive soft power network.