Wed 22 September 2021

The UK’s new international trade envoys are overwhelmingly male and all white – but that’s not surprising considering the Government’s new approach to equality

Eight out of 10 of the UK’s new trade envoys appointed by the Prime Minister today are male and all are white, as the Government launches its latest attempt to “boost British business in dynamic markets”. Three of the envoys are unelected officials from the House of Lords. 

The list includes former cricketer Lord Ian Botham of Ravensworth, Democratic Unionist Party leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson, former Labour MP Lord Walney (John Woodcock), Labour MP Stephen Timms, and Conservative MPs David Mundell, Mark Eastwood, Marco Longhi and Conor Burns.

But only two women have been appointed as Trade Envoys. These are former Labour MP and prominent Brexiter Baroness Kate Hoey, and Conservative MP Felicity Buchan.

And despite envoys being promoted to boost international trade relations with countries such as Ghana, Brazil, Tanzania, Cameroon and Pakistan, all those appointed are white. 

The lack of diversity in the appointments points to a persistent problem in British politics that remains dominated by white men. 

Women currently make up 34% of MPs in Westminster, while black and ethnic minority MPs only make up 10% of Parliament. 

The UK’s Cabinet is also heavily skewed towards white, male faces: 20 Cabinet members and those who attend Cabinet are white men, five are black or have ethnic minority backgrounds, and five are women. The Home Secretary is the only ethnic minority woman in the Cabinet. 

Labour has seven black or ethnic minority people in its Shadow Cabinet, of which six are women. The Shadow Cabinet has 18 women in total and 16 men. 


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The New Equality Agenda

The lack of diversity in the new appointments reflects the Government’s change in emphasis when it comes to equalities. 

Last December, the Women and Equalities Minister Liz Truss set out the Government’s plans for improving equality and diversity in the UK. 

Truss is also the International Trade Minister and a keen Brexit supporter. Alongside Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab, Home Secretary Priti Patel, and Conservative MPs Kwasi Kwarteng and Chris Skidmore, she co-authored an infamous manifesto titled ‘Britannia Unchained’ in 2012 – a deregulation document arguing that the UK should “stop indulging in irrelevant debates about sharing the pie between… men and women”.

In her December speech, Truss outlined a “new approach to equality” that focuses on “individual dignity” as opposed to “quotas and targets”. She pointed to the issues of regional equality and related deprivation and argued that the equality debate had been defined by the “loudest voices” that focused on “protected characteristics” and not “individual character”. Truss went on to emphasise the virtues of “competition”, transparency and “greater agency”. She dismissed the ;eft for focusing on “fashionable issues” of racism and sexism as opposed to regional and economic inequality.

In doing so, Truss ignored how women of colour are most likely to live in poverty. She also ignored her own words in ‘Britannia Unchained’ which argued that “sharing the pie between… north and south” was an “irrelevant debate”. 

Truss’ new vision for equality was followed by the controversial Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities report. As per the December speech, it focused on individual agency rather than systemic inequality when it came to race.

In contrast, a report into the educational outcomes of white working class children – mostly boys – focused on external rather than individual factors as being responsible for poor attainment. The report, by the Commons’ Education Committee, argued that discussions around “white privilege” and wider equalities were partly to blame for white working class boys’ struggles. 

This is the context within which the appointments were made – one that is less concerned with representation and “quotas” than “individual agency” and “competition”. 

A Government spokesperson told Byline Times: “Our new Trade Envoys will play a key role in delivering our ambitious global trade agenda by boosting opportunities for British businesses in some of the world’s fastest growing markets and promoting vital inward investment. Trade Envoys are chosen on the merits of the relevant skills and experience they can bring to their role, their understanding for relevant markets, and their commitment to supporting our trade and investment objectives”.


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