14 July 2016
Tablet interview with the outgoing British Ambassador to the Holy See
Britain’s outgoing man at the Vatican discloses the highs and lows of his five years in the job to Christopher Lamb
At first glance the home of the British Ambassador to the Holy See is a relatively modest, top-floor flat. That is, however, until you go out on to its large balcony where you can take in magnificent panoramic views across the city of Rome.
The make-up of the residence neatly symbolises the United Kingdom’s embassy to the Vatican: small but with a wide-ranging vision. For the past five years the ambassador has been Nigel Baker, a career diplomat who is leaving his post this month.
“I’ve always seen this job as a chance to plug into that global perspective, probably in a way that you can’t do in any other country, or probably nowhere else other than the United Nations,” he tells me in his thankfully air-conditioned flat on a swelteringly hot day in Rome.
This was not always a view shared inside the Foreign Office. In 2004, officials were toying with the idea of closing the embassy altogether: they had got rid of the prestigious old residence, Villa Drusiana, and were threatening to move the ambassador into the gatehouse of the Villa Wolkonsky, the home of the British Ambassador to Italy. The Vatican protested, there was lobbying in Parliament and the then Prime Minister Tony Blair – himself on the way to becoming a Catholic – made it clear that a downgrade would not be tolerated.
Since then both Baker and his predecessor, Francis Campbell, have worked hard to make the case for a UK presence in the Holy See; there was the visit of Benedict XVI to Britain in 2010 and now there is the impact of Francis as a player on the global stage. It seems that the Foreign Office mandarins have held off wielding the axe for the time being.
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