Make Iran ambassador ethnic minority woman not ‘white colonial’ man, says Labour MP

Catherine West - Wiktor Szymanowicz/Future Publishing via Getty Images
Catherine West - Wiktor Szymanowicz/Future Publishing via Getty Images

The British ambassador to Iran should be an ethnic minority woman and not a “white colonial” man, according to a Labour frontbencher.

At a Fabian Society conference earlier this month, Catherine West, the shadow foreign minister for Asia and the Pacific, was asked how a Labour government under Sir Keir Starmer would diversify the UK’s diplomatic relations with Iran.

“Let’s change it. Let’s see if we can have an impact by sending a woman, maybe an ethnic minority woman, somebody who’s got a lot of charisma, rather than the sort of people who it looks like we were sending back when there were tobacco concessions in the 1800s,” she told the conference in comments leaked to The Telegraph.

“Because it does have a sort of a slightly old colonial feel to it, a white colonial feel to it.”

Relations between Iran and the West are tense, especially over weapons and foreign nationals. Since establishing diplomatic relations in 1807, Britain has never sent a female ambassador to Tehran.

Ms West’s comments attracted ridicule on Monday. Sir Ivor Roberts, a former British ambassador to Yugoslavia, told The Telegraph: “Sending a woman to be the British ambassador to Iran is a surefire means of our opinions being given even less importance or credence in Tehran.

“Out of 190 ambassadors around the world, and most countries will be ethnically diverse from us, why should we only be sending ethnically diverse ambassadors to other countries – it’s completely crazy stuff.”

He said Labour’s “decolonising” drive for foreign policy was “wokery gone mad”.

‘Cannot be trusted’

Ms West also said current British global development policies for countries such as China are “old-fashioned colonialism”.

When The Telegraph approached the office of David Lammy, the shadow foreign secretary, his team did not know the comments had been made.

Nickie Aiken, a Tory MP who is a member of the Council of Europe, accused Labour frontbenchers of a “woke agenda”, telling The Telegraph: “The senior Foreign Office officials they are happy to criticise are specialists in their fields with years of experience.

“Rather than criticising their skin colour and gender, Labour MPs should be supporting the hardworking men and women of our world-renowned diplomatic service.

“Labour is obsessed with identity politics rather than the issues that matter to the lives of ordinary people and cannot be trusted on foreign policy as we stand up to brutal regimes like Russia and Iran.”

A Labour spokesman said: “Labour has full confidence in the UK’s ambassador to Iran [Simon Shercliff MBE, who has been in the post since 2021] and we have immense respect for all FCDO staff who serve the UK at home and abroad.

“In a country where women are being appallingly oppressed by the Iranian regime, all parties should recognise that appointing women to senior diplomatic roles when vacancies arise would send a powerful signal of the UK’s commitment to women’s rights.”

The spokesman added that Labour’s foreign policy is “designed to deliver security and prosperity for the British public”.