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UK No Longer A Superpower, Says Indo-British Diplomat

Indian diplomats have long remarked that the Foreign Office is “stuck in the colonial past”, but there are signs of change: an Indian-origin British diplomat says he is grateful that Britain does not have an empire anymore and is not a superpower.

LONDON  – Indian diplomats have long remarked that the Foreign Office is “stuck in the colonial past”, but there are signs of change: an Indian-origin British diplomat says he is grateful that Britain does not have an empire anymore and is not a superpower.

 

Britain’s dwindling standing in international relations has been noted in recent years, more so after the 2016 referendum to leave the European Union, but the remarks by diplomat Nik Mehta in a speech last week suggests a nuanced reappraisal of itself and its global role.

 

Mehta, charge d’affaires of the British Embassy, Seoul, expounded on Britain’s colonial past in a speech at Yonsei University, noting that the United Kingdom has a more complex historical legacy than most countries.

 

“And it’s not all good. I strongly feel that we must acknowledge our past – the good and the bad. The process of reconciliation and revisiting the past is not an easy one. The UK’s colonial legacy will remain controversial, but what’s important is that we continue to learn the lessons of our history”, he said.

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Mehta listed Britain’s several major contributions to global history, and added: “The UK is no longer a superpower. And we don’t have an empire any more – a fact which I, for one, am grateful for”.

 

“I am also proud that I can stand in front of you as a British diplomat and as a son of Commonwealth immigrants. I continue to believe that diversity remains one of the UK’s greatest strengths”.

 

However, Mehta recalled that some of his family members were shocked and upset when he told them he was joining the Foreign Office: “Some asked me if I had forgotten what the British did to ‘our people’.”

 

 

“My family are East African Asians. My mother was thrown out of Uganda in the early 1970s by Idi Amin’s forces after he decided to expel all Asians. She was taken in by the UK. My father left Kenya around the same time to study in the UK. They are very much the children of Britain’s colonial past and imperial history”.

 

Until the 1980s, posting non-white diplomats to represent Britain abroad was considered putting the country’s security and institutional reputation at risk, according to an official historical assessment of race in the Foreign Office.

 

The assessment, titled “Black Skin, Whitehall: Race and the Foreign Office, 1945-2018”, released in October 2018 mentions that Indian-origin Robin Chatterjie was the first successful minority applicant in the entry level Diplomatic Service Fast Stream in 1975.

 

 

Mehta’s remarks are significant in the context of the Foreign Office’s difficult history on issues such as colonialism and race, particularly when there was no public consensus (in the UK) around whether it was “a good thing” or a “bad thing”, as the assessment states.

 

“[The] Empire quite literally depended on crude skin racism in order to function, and until that basic fact is processed and accepted, British politics in general and the FCO in particular will find it an uncomfortable legacy with which to deal”, the document adds.

 

Mehta is among an increasing number of British diplomats from a non-White background posted in various countries, including India.

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