Nigel Baker

Nigel Baker

Ambassador to the Holy See (2011-2016)

Part of UK in Holy See

28th June 2016

Completing the mission

HMA Holy See Nigel Baker bids farewell to thePope at the end of his ambassadorial mandate
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Photo: L’Osservatore Romano©, all rights reserved

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.

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8 comments on “Completing the mission

  1. You have been a wonderful representative of the UK and of the values that England has traditionally stood up for. Thank you and good luck in your new post

  2. I always enjoyed reading your blog and I congratulate you for your excellent work in building mutual respect and appreciation. God bless you.

  3. You have been a dignified, charming and gracious ambassador! thank you and well done! Best wishes for the future. Continue to use your good office to build up!

  4. Re: “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).”

    Shouldn’t “(Ukraine, the Middle East, Latin America, West and Central Africa)” and “(human rights and the role of women, limiting the arms trade, tackling climate change, joining forces against human trafficking)” be listed respectively as strategic and geo-political, or is this just “pulling taffy”? Thanks for your service and blog!

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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.

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