Public Diplomacy by the UK embassy in Austria – a crucial component in Brexit negotiations

HMA-Wurstle-logo-900x527Picture: (Turner, 2016a)

The UK has appointed Leigh Turner as the new HMQ ambassador to Austria. He quickly  made his way into the most famous Austrian late night show ‘Willkommen Österreich’ with an introductory video message in which he emphasises in Austrian dialect Screen Shot 2017-05-25 at 15.00.32.pngimportance of finding a common language for the Brexit negotiations. In the show he was  ridiculed as anyone else, but negative sentiments toward the Brexit decision became apparent. Nonetheless, he reached a large audience which are usually not interested in what diplomats do. A great start into the post in challenging times for British intra European embassies as they will play a crucial role in the upcoming months.

As disintegration negotiations are unprecedented and a difficult diplomatic endeavour themselves, its success ultimately depends on a holistic collaboration agreement.

And as trade deals have become a heated topic in the public discourse, the success of the negotiations, ultimately, is closely connected to whether or not the UK can win (back?} the ‘heart and minds’ of the people from every single remaining member states. In this quest UK embassies can take a key role.

The EU has fundamentally changed intra European diplomacy. As much diplomatic focus has shifted to the multilateral arena in Brussels  (especially COREPER the preparatory body of the Council of the EU), some states e.g. the UK have reduced the budget of bilateral embassies. However, within the multi-level governance framework interactions take place in various forums and ways (Bátora , 2003). Bilateral interactions often takes place directly between different levels of public administration. Nonetheless, with the increasing importance of the multilateral arena, bilateral representatives have played an important role in providing the political context to certain policy positions in Brussels as well as to improve the national image abroad (Bátora  and Hocking, 2008).


Overall trade falls into the exclusive competence of the EU and is negotiated by the Commission, but comprehensive trade agreement as one expects between the EU and the UK will be a ‘mixed agreement’ requiring the approval by all 27 member states.

Screen Shot 2017-05-25 at 14.49.21 1Picture : (Kaczyński, 2011)

Even though the ECJ issued an opinion on a trade deal with Singapore that clarifies that it does not need ratification in all member states where they have exclusive competences, however it does so with mixed agreements and decisively as the court also noted that it is required to set up an investment court system as the ‘Comprehensive  Economic and Trade Agreement’ with Canada did. As the Tories have made it clear that they want to exit the jurisdiction of the ECJ, it will be a decisive and difficult issue at an early stage of the negotiations. Key points in the protests against CETA and TTIP have been the interaction of such a court and the lack of transparency of the negotiations. With only two years time for negotiating Brexit and the subsequent trade agreement  as well as the ratification by 28 national parliaments and the european parliament, the UK embassy in Austria will have to provide the UK negotiation delegation with potential common objectives, context to current policy stands. On top of that convince the Austrian parliament and the public that it is a good deal for Austria.

Since his appointment Leigh Turner had appearances on national TV and Radio Programmes, Moreover is he highly active in writing blogs and engaging with the the public. Recently he even got the support of Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall, who visited Vienna for two days on a royal ‘Brexit charm offensive’. Interestingly, while most are exclusively interested in issues surrounding Brexit, on his blog and and his Twitter account (with over 16.000 followers) he focuses on other issues such as human trafficking or global health. Accidentally he recently made headlines for being chased by a wild boar. Fortunately he could quickly recover and take the opportunity to raise awareness of his online presence and the embassy’s work.

Overall this is not hollow distraction from Brexit but amplifies that close cooperation between the EU and the UK after Brexit is as important as before and that in order to provide the political and legal framework, the heart and minds of people have to be won.

Bátora J. (2003) Does the European Union Transform the Institution of Diplomacy? Netherlands Institute of International Relations ‘Clingendael’ Discussion Papers in Diplomacy. No. 87

Bátora J. and Hocking B. (2008) Bilateral Diplomacy in the European Union: Towards ‘post-modern’ patterns? Discussion Papers in Diplomacy. Netherlands Institute of International Relations ‘Clingendael’

Davies C. and Willsher K. (2017) William and Kate to visit Paris as part of Brexit charm offensive. Guardian.  16 March 2017 [online] available at: last accessed:  21 May 2017

Hacke A. (2017) Brexit Negotiations Series: ‘Process Proposals’ [Blog] Oxford Business and Law Blogs. available at:‘process-proposals’ last accessed: 21 May 2017

International Centre for Trade and Sustainable Development (2017) European Court of Justice Rules on EU Competence in Singapore Trade Deal. Bridges 21(17)

Kaczyński P. M. (2011)  Swimming in Murky Waters: Challenges in Developing the EU’s external Representation. FIIA Briefing Paper No. 88

Turner L. (2016a) A Tyrolean Squirrel’s Tail  Foreign and Commonwealth Office [blog]  available at: 20 September 2017. last accessed 21 May 2017

Turner L. (2016b) „Servus, ich bin Leigh!” – Neuer Britischer Botschafter in Österreich stellt sich vor. 13 September 2016. last accessed  21 May 2017

Turner L. (2017a)  An encounter with a Viennese wild boar.  Foreign and Commonwealth Office [blog]  available at: 15 May 2017 last accessed 21 May 2017

Turner L. (2017b) Boar stories – the aftermath. Foreign and Commonwealth Office [blog] available at:  15 May 2017.  last accessed 21 May 2017

Turner L. (2017c) Boar stories: a message from Ambassador Leigh Turner (in English & auf Deutsch)   19 May 2017. available at

Willkommen Österreich (2016) available at:  last accessed: 1 December 2016.


One thought on “Public Diplomacy by the UK embassy in Austria – a crucial component in Brexit negotiations

  1. stevencurtislm December 10, 2016 / 3:53 pm

    Thank you for a very interesting and timely post. It begins with great promise, focusing on the relative success of the new British ambassador in his media appearances. Is there an online video or newspaper story you can link to here? You might have returned to this theme towards the end of the post, as UK embassies in 27 European capital cities will have to do a lot more of this sort of work in the coming months and years.

    Over the summer I tweeted that the UK has gone from perfidious Albion to dithering Albion, as the government appears completely uncertain about what it wants or the direction it wishes to take the country in. You are right that this is not good for the UK’s reputation. Perhaps you could explore this in more depth and detail.

    In terms of presentation, there are some odd turns of phrase. By ‘tungbreaker’ do you mean ‘tongue twister’? You should use ‘was’ instead of ‘has been’ at the start of the fourth paragraph and you mean ‘corporation’ not ‘cooperation’ in the passage on taxation of company profits. There are also some erroneous claims (e.g., the rebate is not related to the UK retaining sterling as its currency). Finally, please include some more references in the text, for example to the source of the opening story and the views of the UK held by other EU countries.


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