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Brexit: Ambassador wanted: Why Spain has still not appointed its top diplomat in the United Kingdom | News

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Last Monday, social gatherings indoors were once again allowed in the United Kingdom. The country, like most of Europe, is gradually lifting the coronavirus restrictions that have been in place for nearly a year, and the Spanish government’s lack of representation in the UK is starting to turn into a symbolic, practical and political problem. For four months – practically the same time that Brexit has been a legal reality – there has been no ambassador in the Spanish embassy in London.

The former top diplomat in the country, Carlos Bastarreche, turned 70 last November, which is the age at which public officials must retire. But it was a difficult time to find a replacement, given that the UK government and European Commission were continuing to negotiate a trade deal ahead of the end of the Brexit transition period on December 31. There was the real possibility that the UK would leave the European Union without a future trade and cooperation agreement.

The Spanish government wanted stability while the negotiations on the issue of Brexit and the future of Gibraltar, the British Overseas Territory located in the south of the Iberian peninsula, continued. On the request of the government, Bastarreche agreed to remain in the role temporarily, while a decision was made about who to name as the next ambassador. But by February of this year, no decision had been made. Bastarreche announced his resignation once again, giving several weeks of notice, although this time he made it clear he would not stay any longer. He had been in the role for four years, since taking over from Federico Trillo, a former minister of the José María Aznar government, in 2017.

The vacancy sends the message that Boris Johnson, like Donald Trump, is a leader no government wants to be associated with

According to Spain’s secretary of state for the EU, Juan González-Barba, since Bastarreche’s resignation, the daily management of the Spanish embassy has fallen to those in charge of business and diplomat José María Fernández López de Turiso, considered the second-in-command. But according to sources in London, who spoke to EL PAÍS on the condition of anonymity, the fact that no new ambassador has been appointed is starting to cause concern. The conclusion is unanimous: it is incomprehensible that such an important role remains vacant.

As well as looking bad, it also sends the message that UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson, like former US president Donald Trump, is a leader no government wants to be associated with.

There are practical consequences as well, as only the ambassador can approve spending for events in diplomatic offices. In modern international relations, it is key for embassies to keep alliances and interest between countries alive and active. Because there is no ambassador, the Spanish embassy in London could not, for example, organize a celebration for Spain’s National Day. What’s more, Brexit has created a series of bureaucratic problems that are more difficult to solve without an ambassador, such as obtaining visas for staff who have been granted internships to work at the embassy. These positions are key for the daily running of the headquarters and highly sought after by those looking for this type of training. Obtaining visas for Spanish teachers who give classes in the Cañada Blanch Institute, a symbol of Spanish culture in London, is also an issue. Every problem can be solved, but more doors are opened and responses come back faster when the person calling is the ambassador.

The situation also has political implications. As a result of Brexit, the UK no longer belongs to the European Council nor is privy to the daily issues in Brussels. The Spanish government is scrupulously respecting the idea that the European Commission should be the one to negotiate all issues concerning the new relationship with the Johnson administration. But it is faced with a new reality in which the UK seeks and values bilateral relations. According to 2018 data from the Spanish Chamber of Commerce in the UK, direct Spanish investment in UK territory was €77.54 billion – nearly 17% of all foreign investment.

The embassy’s consulting services and economic support have worked effectively in what for many businesses have been months of great uncertainty. In this sense, relations between important countries take care of themselves. But like a machine, “it is much more efficient when properly greased,” explains a source close to the embassy. The ambassador can play an important role as a bridge between the UK government and large Spanish businesses, helping to apply pressure to quicken responses and approvals for certain licenses.

Migrant crisis

Then there are the political crises that must be solved or explained. No one doubts the efforts made by the Spanish Foreign Affairs Ministry to help the young woman from Valencia who spent four days in a temporary holding center due to the UK’s tough new immigration laws. But it is likely that a call from the Spanish ambassador would have sped up her release. An ambassador could also have helped explain the recent crisis between Spain and Morocco, in which thousands of migrants were allowed to breach the Spanish city of Ceuta. By providing more details on the political and historical context of the situation, an ambassador could have helped prevent the media from reaching partial, incomplete and unfair conclusions. And to remind the press that Gibraltar is on the other side of the Strait.

The Spanish community in London has been hotly debating who will finally be named the new ambassador. There are even bets on who will be picked, with some names more likely than others. Sources from the Foreign Ministry have assured EL PAÍS that a package of appointments is being prepared for various ambassador roles, among which, most likely, will be the post in the UK.

Meanwhile, there could be two reasons why Spain has not yet chosen someone for London: either there are a range of candidates and no one has been selected yet, or a candidate has been decided on, but it is not a good time politically to announce their appointment. In the meantime, precisely as the UK is redefining its foreign politics, the Spanish embassy in London still has a vacancy sign hanging.

English version by Melissa Kitson.



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Aid cuts make a mockery of UK pledges on girls’ education | Zoe Williams

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With all the fanfare Covid would allow, the global education summit opened in London this week. Ahead of the meeting, the minister for European neighbourhood and the Americas was on rousing form. “Educating girls is a gamechanger,” Wendy Morton said, going on to describe what a plan would look like to do just that.

The UK, co-hosting the summit with Kenya’s president, Uhuru Kenyatta, plans to raise funds for the Global Partnership for Education, from governments and donors. The UK government has promised £430m over the next five years.

There followed a number of reasons why the issue is so important, all of them absolutely sound: on any given indicator, from GDP to infant health and beyond, a nation stands or falls by how well, for how long, and how inclusively it educates its girls.

The issue has never been more important than during this pandemic, which in many countries is hitting a peak having already affected girls disproportionately.

These are all the right words, even in the right order, yet they land completely at odds with the government’s behaviour.

Lis Wallace, head of advocacy at the One campaign, is most immediately concerned with these pledges being fully funded. There are two core targets: one is to increase girls’ access to education, the other is to boost the key milestone for all children – that they’re able to read and understand a simple story by the age of 10.

The past 18 months have been devastating for education, particularly in countries where it’s harder to access to online learning. About 1.6 billion children are out of school across the world. There’s a target to raise $5bn (£3.6bn), “which is a drop in the ocean of what is required to meet the global learning crisis”, Wallace says. It looks as though this summit will raise no more than $4bn, which is nothing less than a “failure of statecraft”, as Wallace explains: “It’s challenging when the host government is stepping back and making aid cuts for it then to ask other countries to step up.”

This is a depressing echo of the G7’s failure earlier this year; commitments to share vaccine doses with low-income countries came too little, too late, with devastating results, and it’s hard to avoid the question of whether that outcome would have been different if the host nation had role modelled some generosity.

Furthermore, there’s some confused causality in the minister’s assertion that staying in school protects girls from “forced child marriage, gender-based violence and early pregnancy”. The exact inverse is true: it is largely teenage pregnancy that forces girls out of school in the first place, and to try to use education in lieu of sexual health and reproductive provision is illogical.

Esi Asare Prah, who is a youth and advocacy officer in Ghana for MSI Reproductive Choices, describes a situation in which 5,000 to 7,000 girls drop out of school each year after becoming pregnant – last year, 2,000 of them were between 10 and 14. Across sub-Saharan Africa, MSI estimates that up to 4 million girls drop out or are excluded from school every year due to pregnancy.

“These girls are most likely to be on the street, doing menial jobs; their children will not make it into higher education. It creates a cycle of poverty and a cycle of slums. For me, the foundation of it is that you can’t seek to invest in education for girls in sub-Saharan Africa and cut down funding for sexual and reproductive health. If you treat development issues as isolated, you will have the same issues of 50 years ago chasing you into the future.”

Here, the recent cuts to the aid budget make a mockery of these pledges on education: UK funding to the UN Population Fund recently went down by 85%.

There is inspiration to take from this summit, nevertheless; President Kenyatta has been leading the charge not only on education but also on the climate crisis, and there is a solidarity and sense of purpose between poorer nations that may yet inspire greater generosity from donors. Whatever it achieves, though, it will be despite its UK host not because of them.

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[Ticker] US backs WHO plan for further Covid-origin investigation

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US secretary of state Antony Blinken affirmed his country’s support to conduct additional investigations into the origins of the Covid-19 after meeting with the head of the World Health Organization, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, on Wednesday, Reuters reported. “He stressed the need for the next phase to be timely, evidence-based, transparent, expert-led, and free from interference,” a US state department spokesperson said in a statement.

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‘Freudian Slip’: Biden Confuses Trump With Obama in New Gaffe

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The 78-year-old American president is known to be prone to verbal gaffes and slips of the tongue, for which he is usually criticized or mocked by some people on social media.

US President Joe Biden appeared to confuse former US President Barack Obama for another former US president, Donald Trump, in a Wednesday speech, but swiftly corrected himself and suggested that the mistake was a “Freudian slip”.

“Back in 2009, during the so-called Great Recession, the president asked me to be in charge of managing that piece, then-President Trump,” Biden said while addressing the public in Pennsylvania. “Excuse me, Freudian slip, that was the last president. He caused the…anyway, President Obama, when I was vice-president.”

Apparently, Biden briefly messed up the timeline, confusing his predecessor, Trump, with the 44th US president, Obama. Even his quick apology did not prevent social media users from picking up on his gaffe.

​Some suggested that since a Freudian slip occurs as an action inspired by an internal train of thought or unconscious wish, it was Biden “dreaming” about working with Trump rather than Obama.

​Others argued that the 46th president does not know what a Freudian slip really is.

​Biden was in Pennsylvania on Wednesday speaking at a Mack Truck assembly plant in Lehigh Valley, promoting his administration’s new measures to encourage US citizens and companies to “buy American”. Particularly, he announced plans to modify the 1933 Buy American Act that requires federal firms and agencies to purchase goods that have at least 55% US-made components. 

Under the Biden plan, the threshold will be increased to 65% by 2024 and to 75% by 2029.



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