The British government has done an excellent job getting its embassy staff out of Sudan, but not the 4,000 or so (don’t we know?) other British citizens possibly still there. Conservative MP Alicia Kearns criticised the response, saying nothing had been learned since the panicked evacuation of Afghanistan. Meanwhile, the EU has got out over 1,000 European citizens aside from various embassies’ staff (but how many ancillary locals and their families remains to be seen).
Brits need note, their passports don’t quite seem to do what it says on the tin, rather on the inside cover:
“His Britannic Majesty‘s Secretary of State requests and requires in the name of His Majesty all those whom it may concern to allow the bearer to pass freely without let or hindrance and to afford the bearer such assistance and protection as may be necessary.”
Because as the Foreign and Commonwealth Office stated its obligations in 2019:
“The FCO is not a statutory safeguarding body, nor does it have duty of care to British nationals overseas. There is no legal obligation for the FCO to provide consular assistance under domestic or international law; rather the FCO provides support on a discretionary basis.”
“May” and “if it can”
As the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO, as it’s now known) says on its own “If you’re affected by a crisis abroad” guidance, any assistance given “may be limited.”
HMG may “send additional FCDO staff to support in-country, when it is needed and safe to do so” – which in Sudan’s case wouldn’t apply as such staff have already been evacuated, as, rightly, “We have a duty of care to our staff and we will not send them into a situation where we judge that their safety could be seriously at risk.” But not to other citizens.
The FCDO may if it can “work with airlines, airports and travel companies and highlight their advice and services,” and “in exceptional circumstances, where commercial flights are not available, we may provide additional transport, such as a charter flight, where you may be charged an appropriate fee for seats”. If you need a loan they’ll cover it but you’ll pay it back and pronto, regardless of what you’ve abandoned.
OK, HMG says, they may, “in extreme circumstances, send military aircraft or vessels to evacuate eligible people”.
It’s all a bit, “maybe … if … depending …”, a bit frayed, half-cocked. And has worsened under a certain government. A September 2021 Commons debate on consular support for British citizens cited the Foreign Affairs Committee 2015 report that said budget cuts and low pay could have a “disastrous and costly” effect on HMG’s ability to make an informed response to critical issues, and “capacity now appears to be being damaged”. We’ve had Brexit and the pandemic-recession since, plus those in Downing St. having been wracking up their war on the civil service all the while.
No worth to the government
All this time folk worried about the colour of the passport, while Brexit reduced its value to most states in Europe, and more we find for ourselves – we are of no worth to this government. That’s something the long-abandoned British citizens in Europe have known as the In Limbo project has charted at harrowing length. What you can no longer do to others you’ll render upon your own.