The nuclear deal with Iran might technically involve the P5+1 but it is increasingly clear that it is being forged without the UK. As John Kerry’s tweet shows, our foreign secretary has been absent, for some reason travelling to Washington DC this past week even though the secretary of state wasn’t there.
Philip Hammond himself is all too aware of this fact. In an extraordinary briefing (while in DC) he explained the rationale for his absence so far…
“I’m going back to London and I will go to Lausanne as soon as it’s appropriate to be there,” he said, explaining that the talks were in a highly technical phase.
Hammond noted that a previous round of talks held in Vienna last November failed, and said he was now wary of “going and sitting in a hotel room for two days.”
“It’s only an hour, an hour-and-a-half, flight away,” he said. “I will jump on a plane and go to Lausanne as soon as we sense that we’re getting to the point where we need to sit down.”
So even if he was in Lausanne, he would be sitting in a hotel room, apparently surplus to requirements.
Thankfully he did finally arrive on Sunday, presumably when the French and German foreign ministers (who were already there) said the photo op was looming.
There’s a broader point here, beyond a pissy comment on Mr Hammond’s profile. If the UK continues to hem and haw about its role in Europe, it will find itself further removed from the big stage. And while our French and German comrades are putting themselves front and centre of one the biggest diplomatic initiatives of the moment, we will have nothing but a walk-on role right at the end.
At least Cathy Ashton has been highly involved in getting talks to the stage where a deal is possible. But even she has sadly slipped from view since finishing her term as EU foreign policy chief.
All this is to say that the idea that Britain can continue to punch above its weight on the world stage is pie in the sky unless we are working closely with France and Germany.