The Great Invitation Scandal
Amid a growing row over [the Syrian Ambassador] Dr Khiyami’s invitation to the wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton, the Foreign Office said representatives of countries with which the UK had “normal diplomatic relations” had been invited.
But in a statement, it added: “An invitation does not mean endorsement or approval of the behaviour of any government, simply that we have normal diplomatic relations with that country.” ~BBC News
I heard this story on the BBC World broadcast on the radio as I was driving home, and the remarkable thing about it was that this non-story was one of their lead items. Obviously, the British government and the Palace are free to invite or not invite whomever they like, and like so many other things connected with the pending royal wedding this is not very important, but you wouldn’t know that from the breathless fashion in which the British press have been covering the “story.” Indeed, had the press not turned this bit of trivia into a scandal, it is doubtful that the British Foreign Office would have thought twice about it. If an invitation doesn’t imply an endorsement of a government’s behavior, it doesn’t have anything to do with current British policy towards the government in question. If Britain is otherwise protesting Syrian repression and talking about sanctions, having their ambassador at a high-profile wedding doesn’t mean anything. Withdrawing an invitation specifically to protest unacceptable behavior makes a mockery of the general rule, and shows that Hague is just panicking in response to bad news coverage.
The withdrawn invitation links the uninteresting royal wedding story with something important, and it makes royal wedding enthusiasts more aware of things elsewhere in the world that actually matter, but it doesn’t make much sense as a matter of British policy. Many other equally abusive or even more wretched governments will have their representatives in attendance, because Britain has diplomatic relations with many governments whose human rights records are no better and some of which are far worse. Even though it goes against the Foreign Office’s own view of what invitations to these events mean, Syria is out because Syria happens to be the cause celebre this week. Call it the CNN-and-tabloids effect. Like everything else about British foreign policy lately, the decision-making here is purely reactive and opportunistic.