14:10 GMT06 March 2021
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    A broad cabinet reshuffle sits high on the agenda of UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who despite the holiday season, has been busy drafting a “to do” list ahead of impending post-Brexit talks in Brussels in 2020.

    A long-serving woman diplomat is being tipped as a frontrunner in the race for two top UK government roles in 2020: chief of MI6 and British ambassador to Washington, reported The Times.

    Dame Karen Pierce, Britain’s permanent representative to the United Nations, is expected to be promoted to one of the two most prestigious civil service positions.

    She would, in the likelihood she succeeds, become a trailblazer again as the first woman to hold either post.

    The 60-year-old career diplomat was the first woman to represent her country at the UN – a position she secured in March 2018.

    Karen Pierce at a Security Council Meeting. File photo.
    © Sputnik / Нэнси Сисель
    Karen Pierce at a Security Council Meeting. File photo.

    In almost 40 years in the diplomatic service, Dame Karen Pierce has been posted to Tokyo, Geneva, and the Balkans and was the UK’s ambassador to Afghanistan in 2015 and 2016.

    Pierce was private secretary to the British ambassador in Washington between 1992 and 1995.

    Dubbed a “straight-talker” and defying stereotypes, especially at the UN, where she has been known to sport a faux boa and expresses a preference for stilettos over sneakers, Pierce is understood to be highly rated by the PM, who allegedly is “a huge fan” of hers, having worked closely with Pierce during his time as foreign secretary.

    UK Ambassador to Washington

    As the UK faces the start of crunch post-Brexit trade talks with the United States once the country formally leaves the European Union on 31 January, the British government will be seeking to “reset” diplomatic relations with Washington after a strained period.

    The ambassadorship to Washington has been vacant since July, when Sir Kim Darroch left after the leak of incendiary diplomatic cables in July 2019.

    Darroch, one of Britain's top diplomats, had used secret cables and briefing notes to Downing Street to question US President Donald Trump's character, warning London that the White House was “uniquely dysfunctional” and that the president's career could end in “disgrace”.

    British Ambassador Kim Darroch hosts a National Economists Club event at the British Embassy in Washington. Leaked diplomatic cables published Sunday, July 7,2 019
    © AP Photo / Sait Serkan Gurbuz
    British Ambassador Kim Darroch hosts a National Economists Club event at the British Embassy in Washington. Leaked diplomatic cables published Sunday, July 7,2 019

    President Trump, in turn, accused the diplomat of being “not liked or well thought of within the US” before vowing that “we will no longer deal with him”.

    It was later claimed that Sir Kim felt his resignation was inevitable when then Tory leadership frontrunner Boris Johnson failed to publicly support him at the height of the row.

    As for Karen Pierce, Donald Trump has reportedly been impressed by her, privately describing her as “fab”, according to The Mail on Sunday.

    Sources previously hinted that Sir Mark Sedwill, the cabinet secretary, had also been considered for the position.

    Currently it is believed he may remain at the head of the civil service to tackle impending structural changes to government departments as part of an anticipated cabinet reshuffle in the wake of the UK leaving the EU on 31 January.

    A final decision on the posting is expected to be made early in the new year.


    Sir Alex Younger, 56, the current chief of MI6, will be stepping down at the end of the summer – he had extended his contract in April this year to maintain stability during the Brexit negotiations, according to the publication.

    The fact that Pierce’s name has been linked by Whitehall sources to the race for the top MI6 position is to a degree anticipated, as there is a precedent for a British ambassador to the UN to be promoted to head the foreign intelligence service.

    Sir John Sawers was similarly catapulted to the position from New York in 2009.

    Also in the running are internal candidates at MI6, with previous media reports hinting at Tom Hurd, Home Office security chief, Madeleine Alessandri, deputy national security adviser, and Richard Moore, political director at the Foreign Office as frontrunners.


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