The debate surrounding Britain’s referendum on the EU is
well under way. After making some surprising statements at the end of February
and start of March, Foreign Secretary, Philip Hammond, has been surprisingly
quiet.

Hammond’s
reputation was once that of being something of a Euroscpetic. As recently as
2013, in an interview with the BBC, he suggested
that he would vote to leave the EU.

On appointment to his current position, with a general
election in sight, he insisted that his position was to renegotiate for a reformed
EU
. This general thrust of policy was enshrined in his party manifesto
(page72 et seq).

After an election win, the position changed within a couple
of months. In further interviews, his line was
distinctly middle of the road. Mr Hammond also said the government wanted to
engage in the debate “in a fair way” and would ensure public money
was not allowed to be “inappropriately spent”.

By 26th February this year, he boasted on Twitter
“I lead a robust #EU
debate in Parliament today. The UK
is safer, stronger & better off inside a reformed #EU. #EUreferendum”.

In an interview with Andrew Marr,
Hammond
sidestepped the issues of what would be achieved relative to manifesto
commitments. Effectively, he did not deny that manifesto commitments had not
been realised. His suggestion, a repeat of what he told Parliament, was that
voters would see the outcomes “in the round”.

The phrase “in the round” is an interesting one. Apparently
its roots are in the theatre where a performance can be seen from all sides.
One interpretation is that the performance can be exposed. Another is akin to a
firing squad forming a circle.

Since his comments after the announcement of a referendum, Hammond might be seen as
a weak link. His promises about fair debate and public funds appear to have
been contradicted by the notorious £9.3m pamphlet and Osborne’s Treasury
dossier.

He does seem to have been strangely quiet on EU affairs
since February. What has he been up to?

A trawl of Foreign and Commonwealth Office press releases,
combined with his Twitter account give us some answers. He has been incredibly
busy on the world stage.

Leading up to the Easter period, Hammond
was seen in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Paris, Baghdad, Georgia
and Lebanon.
Since then, his travels have taken him to Hong Kong, Beijing,
Vietnam, Tripoli
and Colombia.

His latest overseas appearance was in Mexico, discussing economic reform and investment
opportunities for UK
investment in energy and infrastructure. His previous stop was in Cuba where he
was able to declare a bilateral agreement arguably to the embarrassment of the
IN campaign who tell us how long it takes to strike a deal.

He has certainly been a busy bunny. During those trips, his
absence from Foreign and Commonwealth question times received criticisms from
both sides of the House.

Some cynics might suggest that it has been decreed as a
potential liability in the campaign, Hammond
is being kept out of domestic view. Certainly, some of the unease of Conservative
colleagues about taxpayer funded information might be traced back to Hammond’s own comments in
June 2015.

Others, arguably more cynical, might liken his disappearing
act from the domestic scene to John Major’s wisdom teeth at the time of
Thatcher’s toppling.

Of course, a return to the firing line would be welcome. If Britain is a
democracy, it is entirely appropriate the Foreign Secretary shares his views on
the most pressing foreign policy question for over 40 years. He should not miss
another question time and his achievements or otherwise should be open to
public scrutiny.

It will have been noted that Hammond took his front bench seat for PMQs on
4th May. The following day, he met with the delegation from Japan
accompanying Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. He has been silent on the outcomes.

Therefore, the question remains, has Hammond been gagged, has he gagged himself or
is the flurry of meetings with representatives from around the world merely
coincidence?

Victory for IN means he can claim to have won all the
reforms achievable, victory for OUT presents him as a candidate who has
credibility around the globe, even if his earlier slashing of defence budgets
leaves him without the military power to back up support for some of the
regimes he has visited.

According to opinion polls, the debate is a close run thing.
Cameron has already stated that he will not stand for another term. Politicians
from both sides have suggested that in the event of a LEAVE vote, his position
becomes immediately untenable. Either way, there are fractures to repair in the
Conservative Party.

Who is most likely to succeed him? The majority of
Conservative MPs identify with the Remain camp. The decision is ultimately
theirs. Even in the event of a Leave vote, internal disputes will be a
challenge for those most ardent supporters to Remain. The most ardent in the
Leave camp face a challenge to gain a majority.

Hammond
can claim to be a suitable compromise candidate. The longer he stays quiet, the
more he can be regarded as one not to have offended either side.

Perhaps more critically, he can realistically claim to have
a presence on the world stage, a potential Prime Minister who can bridge gaps
with those outside Fortress Europe, one with a history of bilateral agreements.

If the outcome is to remain, he might expect to be regarded
as instrumental in securing the “reform” necessary to secure the vote. If the
outcome is to leave, he is the man who can negotiate deals with the EU in a
timely manner. In either event, he was the man to present the referendum bill.

As Iain Duncan Smith, himself a compromise candidate,
famously stated at the 2002 Conservative party conference “do not
underestimate the determination of a quiet man”, but why is Hammond so quiet?

Obviously, there are several weeks for Hammond to make a public contribution to the greatest
debate on policy from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office for over 40 years. Whilst
he is waiting in the wings, his views will not be seen “in the round”. Until he
does, there will inevitably be conjecture that he sees his real place as centre
stage.

It is said that history repeats itself. After the 1975
referendum, when the Prime minister of the day stood down, he was succeeded by
the Foreign Secretary. Just as Callaghan followed Wilson,
Would anyone really bet against Hammond
following Cameron?