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New UK ambassador presents credentials to Vatican

19 September 2016 | by Christopher Lamb

Experienced civil servant Sally Axworthy first to wear diplomatic uniform for female ambassadors

Britain’s new ambassador to the Holy See has presented her credentials to Pope Francis meaning she can now officially begin her work representing the UK to the Vatican. This morning Sally Axworthy handed over the documents showing she can speak for the British government in a formal ceremony which took place in the state rooms of the Apostolic Palace, a grand setting where the Pope meets heads of state.  

When presenting her credentials this morning Ambassador Axworthy became the first to wear a specially designed diplomatic uniform for female ambassadors. The Holy See is one of the few postings where envoys are expected to wear full diplomatic dress for formal occasions. 

"I see my role as working in the space where the Pope’s objectives overlap with the UK’s. There are many such areas. We have well-established cooperation on combating modern slavery through the Santa Marta Group," the new ambassador wrote today on her blog. "We have shared objectives on climate change, and on ending conflicts in the Middle East and Africa."

She added, however, that working in the Vatican will require some re-adjusting.

"Some things will need getting used to. Coming from a Foreign Office that is now 43% women, with 28% female ambassadors, I am immediately struck that I am operating in a world that is largely male," she said. "I do however have several female ambassadorial colleagues, and I look forward to meeting the  lay and religious women working at the Vatican."

Sally Axworthy has a 30-year career working for the government behind her with postings in Moscow, Kiev and Bonn while more recently she’s developed an expertise in Africa: before moving to Rome she was joint leader of the Foreign Office’s North Africa department and has run the Somalia Unit. 

This is her first ambassadorial posting and it’s expected she’ll tap into the Holy See’s extensive global network which has been bolstered by Pope Francis’ increasing importance on the world stage.   

In 2004 the the UK and the Holy See’s relationship was at a low ebb with the Foreign Office selling of the prestigious residence of previous ambassadors and toying with the idea of closing the embassy altogether. 

But since then ambassadors Francis Campbell and Nigel Baker have worked hard to make the case for the UK presence in the Vatican with Baker telling The Tablet there was now a “strong working relationship” between Britain and the Holy See. 



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