Principal reflects on her time as Ambassador in recording for the Churchill Archives 

Head and shoulders photo of Newnham College Principal Alison Rose

Three years after she left the UK Foreign Office, Alison Rose was invited to take part in the British Diplomatic Oral History Programme, which records the recollections of former diplomats. The programme aims to go behind official documents to explore how diplomats experienced significant events as well as providing valuable insights into the daily workings of diplomacy  

The transcript of her interviews was posted just in time for an event to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the programme, which is hosted in the Churchill College archives.  Reflecting on the process of being interviewed, during an event to mark the Anniversary, Alison said she was pleased to be able to represent the experiences of the many civil servants from various departments who were seconded to the UK’s permanent representation to the EU during the UK’s time as a member, particularly in Brussels. 

She valued the opportunity which the oral history programme had provided to reflect on the whole of her time as a diplomat, including as Ambassador to Belgium, from 2014-2019. This had helped her identify connections and discontinuities between different Governments’ handling of EU issues and between the way in which the EU dealt with different Member States who were holding referenda. 

“It’s very easy, if one wants to see Brexit as a failure, to pin it on one Prime Minister but actually I think there were failures of communications, failure to understand the British mood, failures to communicate what was going on in the EU and how we were benefitting, which covered a long period and  a number of Prime Ministers. 

“I was also able to reflect on differences and similarities between the negotiations the EU undertook with Ireland before the  second referendum on the Lisbon Treaty and how they handled the negotiations  with David Cameron later.  

“I hope I showed the breadth of bilateral issues that an Ambassador covers:  trade and investment, energy, defence, counter terrorism, migration, consular work. Each Embassy is in a sense a mini-Whitehall; you are working not just for the Foreign Office but for a wide range of Government Departments, and that is the joy and interest of the job.”