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Brexit means UK must send more diplomats to Europe – MPs

The Foreign Office’s resources are “too thinly spread” and embassies in Paris and Berlin should be beefed up, MPs say.

Britain’s diplomatic network in Europe is too thinly spread and must be boosted to cope with the demands of Brexit, an influential committee of MPs has said.

Representation at embassies in Berlin and Paris should be significantly increased to help maintain influence on the continent without the level of automatic access that came with European Union membership, the MPs said.

The UK should also strive to maintain a seat at the table on the EU body responsible for defence, security and foreign policy and remain open to collaborating on European military co-operation.

Boris Johnson’s Foreign Office (FCO) is giving “mixed messages” about its role in the Brexit process and beyond, the MPs’ report said.

The Commons Foreign Affairs Committee said Mr Johnson’s department was “too thinly stretched in Europe at a time when it has a vital role to play”.

It had “taken too long” to deploy an extra 50 UK-based staff across the 27 remaining EU nations and it was “unclear” what further steps were being taken to boost Britain’s diplomatic capability.

“The FCO must increase its diplomatic presence in EU27 capitals, focusing on Berlin and Paris, and prioritising political and economic staff and research analysts,” the report said.

But the MPs warned that extra investment in the EU should not come at the expense of other parts of the world at a time when the Government is trying to build a “global Britain”.

The MPs also suggested creating a new minister solely responsible for Europe, who would be based in Brussels.

Boris Johnson's Foreign Office is giving 'mixed messages' about its Brexit role, MPs say (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

The report suggested Britain should aim to “secure automatic and institutionalised collaboration” with Brussels including a status on the EU’s political and security committee “that allows the UK to have a representative in meetings” with speaking – if not voting – rights.

The UK should also consider paying in to the European defence fund, which contributes to the development of military equipment and technology.

Foreign Affairs Committee chairman Tom Tugendhat (Chris McAndrew/UK Parliament/(Attribution 3.0 Unported (CC BY 3.0)/PA)

The committee’s Tory chairman Tom Tugendhat said: “Britain’s future will be decided by our foreign policy.

“We’ve succeeded as a networked, trading nation and for this to continue our partnership with others will matter.

“That includes working with the EU on foreign affairs, security and defence but so far these areas of the Brexit negotiations have received little attention.

“The Committee has questioned ministers and officials but the Government appears not to have decided on its objectives yet.

“The Committee argues that it is important we get clarity soon so that the FCO can set out its vision for UK foreign policy in Europe and around the world.

“We must also invest more in our thinly-stretched European network without stripping resources from our global outreach. ”

The committee also recommended that extra staff should be sent to Ireland, with an emphasis on “public relations” to smooth the damage done by the Brexit rift.

In a statement, an FCO spokesman said: “We agree with the committee about the importance of investing in our European network while maintaining our global reach.

“We have already prioritised our resources so we can increase our presence in the European network and we are now working with HM Treasury to ensure that we have the right resources to equip us for the future.”

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