UK to sell Thai embassy to make ends meet

The UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) is to carry out its biggest ever real estate disposal by selling its Bangkok embassy for £420m ($600m).

Diplomats will have to move office by 2019 thanks to the sale, which the FCO also claims is the "biggest land deal in Thai history".

The money will be used to modernise up to 40 other embassies around the world, including Cairo, New Delhi and Washington, DC.

The 3.7ha property is on Wireless Road in the city’s most upmarket quarter.

Taken over by the UK government in 1922, the embassy is a familiar sight to Bangkok residents, and it known for its Gurkha guards, tropical gardens and statute of Queen Victoria.

The deal has angered British expats, but the government says it is trying to make ends meet.

"In a tight fiscal environment, it is right that we take tough decisions to ensure that the UK can maintain a global presence while getting the best value for taxpayers," Simon McDonald, permanent under-secretary at the Foreign Office, said.

"This deal will ensure that we have a modern, state of the art premises in Bangkok, confirming our long-term commitment to our relationship with Thailand, while releasing much-needed funds to modernise other embassies around the world."

The Central Embassy Mall stands on a third of the embassy’s former grounds (Picaidol/Creative Commons)

The Bangkok embassy is being sold to a joint-venture consortium of Hongkong Land, a member of the Jardine Matheson Group, and Central Group.

In 2006, part of the original compound was sold to Central Group, and now houses the Central Embassy shopping mall.

The new Bangkok embassy will be based in the AIA Sathorn Tower in the central business district.

Britain’s diplomatic service has suffered numerous cuts in the past few years.

In 2015 it put forward plans to reduce its budget by between 25% and 40%, and at the end of last year Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson put forward plans to increase the UK’s representation in European capitals to counter the projected loss of influence attending the UK’s withdrawal from the EU. Johnson said this would be paid for by cutting diplomatic missions in Asia and Africa.

It has also cut back its representation in Thailand – a country where the UK tourists frequently get into difficulties and require consular assistance, as described in this documentary.

In 2012, the FCO announced the consulate in Pattaya would close, followed in 2014 by the consulate in Chiang Mai.

When the Thai embassy sale was first mooted back in 2016 there was an angry reaction from UK ex-pats.

One described it as "an utter disgrace", on the grounds that the land was gifted to the FCO by the Thai government to use as an embassy.

Another commented: "We were outraged when the front of the embassy was sold off a few years back. That was bad enough. But now we are looking at the complete demolition of this wonderful compound. This is a real tragedy, and very, very sad. The British government will be selling off Buckingham Palace next."

Image: The UK embassy on Wireless Road (Creative Commons)

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  1. best value for taxpayers,” Simon McDonald, permanent under-secretary at the Foreign Office, said. Ha Ha very funny

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