The UK’s consulate in southern Iraqi port city of Basra will close its offices soon as part of the coalition government’s austerity drive to reduce spending, local media reported.
The consulate has been the British government’s only outpost here since 2004, which is located in a high-security zone in the city’s heavily-guarded airport.
The Foreign Office has come to the conclusion that the £6.5 million a year bill for running the four-strong consulate is too high, and that British commercial interests can be adequately represented from the Embassy in Baghdad, 300 miles north, British media reported.
This is while many British business leaders complain that by closing the consulate future business opportunities will be handed over to firms from Turkey, India and China after Britain’s latest pullout from the country’s business hub.
The move also comes despite the Foreign Secretary, William Hague, pledging in 2010 to defend Britain's embassy network from budget cuts, on the basis that "helping British business is an existential mission for the Foreign Office".
"To shut this consulate just to save a little money is a shocking way to advance British interests, when we have nine consulates in Spain alone," said Baroness Nicholson of Winterbourne, who chairs the Iraq Britain Business Council, which opened its own small office in Basra just back in July.
"£6.5 million a year might seem a lot, but it is a drop in the ocean when one considers that Basra is going to be an energy hub for the whole Middle East region", Baroness Nicholson added.
The Foreign Secretary announced the move to close the consulate to parliament in October, saying “the cash for the Basra consulate would be re-allocated to support the missions in Baghdad and the Kurdish city of Irbil, where British firms are also involved in oil exploration”.
"I have decided to focus staff and resources where they will support the United Kingdom's partnership with Iraq as efficiently as possible," he said.