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FO red-faced over briefing blunder

The Foreign Office has been left red-faced after it inadvertently published a confidential briefing which suggests European Union foreign policy chief Cathy Ashton was not experienced enough for her job.

The embarrassing blunder comes just two months after the Ministry of Defence was forced into an emergency retraction of secret information about Britain's nuclear-powered submarines it posted online.

Both official documents contained sensitive material that appeared to be blacked out but could in fact be read by anyone using a computer to copy and paste it into another file.

UK Independence Party leader Nigel Farage, who has been a vocal critic of Baroness Ashton's appointment, said the ease with which the redacted information could be recovered suggested "serious lapses in security".

"It makes you wonder how many other documents are in existence which, following a simple 'cut and paste' exercise, would also reveal the real thinking behind some key decisions," he said.

The Foreign Office memo reveals that the UK Government felt only a former foreign minister, prime minister or head of state would have "enough authority" to become the EU's first High Representative for Foreign Affairs.

The Foreign Office published the document, which dates from earlier in 2009, on its website in response to a Freedom of Information (FoI) request. It lists the UK's objectives for the newly-created positions of European Council president and EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs.

Then-prime minister Gordon Brown lobbied hard for Tony Blair to be made Europe's first president, but in the end the post went to Belgian prime minister Herman van Rompuy.

The document calls for a "strong, effective" High Representative who could help build a "credible" European diplomatic corps, known as the External Action Service (EAS), and "represent EU foreign policy in the wider world".

A Foreign Office spokesman said: "We take the full and proper application of the Freedom of Information Act very seriously. Subsequent to the release of this FoI, we wrote round to all Foreign and Commonwealth Office departments in March, setting out best practice on handling the redaction of withheld material."

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