The public backlash over a British-Canadian plan to share embassy buildings has had an odd side effect: a rush to fly the flag.
Diplomats and officials are scurrying to ship flagpoles to far-flung embassies – despite massive costs for some regions – so that neither country gets caught with its flag down again.
The new flag race began 10 days ago, when British Foreign Secretary William Hague flew into Ottawa for a meeting with Canada’s Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird and ran into a burst of controversy over an agreement to share buildings for embassies in the future.
The plan sparked criticism from those who accused Ottawa of merging its diplomatic brand with Britain – and questions about whose flag would fly over shared embassies.
Mr. Hague and Mr. Baird were taken aback, and were left almost sputtering at an Ottawa press conference, where they insisted it was only a modest agreement to save a little money by sharing buildings in a handful of places.
But according to sources, it also sparked another effort, in the handful of places where Canada and Britain are already sharing lodgings: to make sure both the Union Jack and Maple Leaf are flying.
Mr. Hague’s office asked British officials to make sure that there would be no more surprises with national sensitivities over flags.
That sent diplomats in places like troubled Iraq and Mali – which was hit this year by a coup and an Islamist insurgency that has seized the country’s north – looking for places to fly the flags, while officials pondered the new costs for the cost-saving arrangement.
British officials have been shopping around for ways to put up a Canadian flag in Iraq. The discovered cost is about $2,400, plus a considerable sum for freight, to send a new flagpole to Baghdad that would bear the Maple Leaf. A Canadian diplomat has been using a desk in the British embassy there for years, flying in from Jordan for a few days each month.
In Mali, where British diplomats have housed their embassy inside the Canadian embassy building for three years, British officials are now looking into putting up a Union Jack outside the building in Bamako, according to sources. No one, apparently, had worried about the British flag until now.
Both cases raised another delicate diplomatic issue: Who will pay?
British officials, for example, have asked the Canadian government if they really need their flag waving in Baghdad. After all, the Canadian diplomat there is a tenant of the Brits, not part of a “co-located” embassy that would be governed by the new agreement signed last week by Mr. Hague and Mr. Baird.
Still, unless the Canadian government says it doesn’t need its flag in Baghdad, British officials may now feel obliged to hoist one – and then, perhaps, send the bill to Ottawa. After all, the foreign services of both countries are strapped for cash – that’s why they’ve decided to share embassies.