Andrew Whittaker 

The British Consul General speaks to life in Her Majesty's not-so-secret service

Andrew Whitaker, British Consulate-General, San Francisco

George Prentice

Andrew Whitaker, British Consulate-General, San Francisco

When Andrew Whittaker was six years old and growing up in South London, he wanted to be a stuntman. In his teens, he thought about becoming an astronaut or a graphic designer. By the time he was at the University of Cambridge, he had set his sights on serving Queen Elizabeth.

"I'm the first in my family to join the foreign service," Whittaker said.

The British government assigned him to posts in Madrid, Jerusalem and Basra. He rose to Deputy Head of the Foreign Office Crisis Management Department and Deputy Director of the U.K. national cyber security team, and today, Whittaker's official title is Her Majesty's Consul General.

From his base in San Francisco, Whittaker represents the U.K. in several western U.S. states, including Idaho. During a recent visit to the Gem State, he talked about Brexit—the U.K.'s in-process secession from the European Union—and his country's vested interests in Idaho.

Can we assume there's no turning back from Brexit?

I don't think it's ever been a question of trying to find a way not to do it. By far, it is now my government's No. 1 priority. Brexit also affords the opportunity for the U.K. to become a real global champion of free trade.

Can you appreciate that a fair number of Americans are looking at Brexit selfishly and asking, "What does this mean for us?"

The special relationship between the U.K. and the U.S. is extremely deep, and that's not going to change. Think of our excellent security and intelligence cooperation and our shared values. That will continue as it has done for many decades past, and I'm very confident we'll continue that for many decades to come.

And our trading partnership?

The U.S. is, by far, our largest trade partner as a single nation. Something like a million people go to work every day in the United States, working for a company headquartered in the U.K.

We watch the U.K. political scene and Prime Minister Theresa May with great interest. Can I assume you're watching our political scene?

We absolutely don't play a role in your internal politics.

Our political scene is tough to ignore.

We want to work with whoever is in charge. For example, here in Idaho, it's extremely important for us to recognize you're about to have a race for your next governor.

That race is already gaining steam.

Whoever you choose, it's important for us to form a good relationship with that person and continue to work together.

Give me a sense of how you fill your schedule when you're in Idaho.>/i>

I've spent time with your state's Department of Commerce, I'm talking to a class at Boise State University, I'm speaking to your Boise Committee on Foreign Relations and I'll be spending some time talking with executives at Micron, a company with a number of U.K. interests.

Let's talk about how your prime minister and our president are in stark disagreement over the Paris Agreement. Our president barely even recognizes climate change.

Climate change is real. It's serious, and we've got to take steps collectively to recognize the dangers that climate change poses. We're transitioning away from coal, which has been very dominant in the U.K. for many decades. Developing new forms of energy is critical.

Can I assume living in San Francisco with your wife and two children is great?

San Francisco is fabulous, but one of the genuinely brilliant things about my job is that I've got this enormous amount of real estate to get around, and Idaho is a big part of that.

How often do you get back to London?

Not a huge amount.

What do you miss the most?

Ribena.

I'm sorry. I'm not familiar with Ribena.

It's a drink made from black currants. Trust me, I'm not advertising it, but I have a soft spot for Ribena. Somehow, it reminds me of home.

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