How our woman in Trinidad learned her diplomatic skills in Yorkshire pubs

It’s been little more than six weeks since Harriet Cross took up her new role as High Commissioner to Trinidad and Tobago, but not one person has asked her about Brexit yet.

Harriet Cross, British High Commissioner to Trinidad and Tobago. PHOTO: Alina Doodnath/Loop News T&T.

“It hasn’t made a big impact here and hasn’t really changed our relationship with T&T, apart from perhaps creating a bit more space for that relationship to develop,” she told The Yorkshire Post, speaking from the capital, Port of Spain.

But that’s not to say the issue is not important to her work there. In fact, in common with Foreign Office officials right around the world, she has been tasked with helping to develop stronger trading links beyond Europe, and will work closely with a three-strong team from the Department for International Trade based in Port of Spain.

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Adding to the firepower, a UK trade envoy to the Caribbean was recently announced, a new appointment which went down well in the region. “Because we have left the EU, there’s definitely more energy and interest going into relationships with the Commonwealth than there has been to date,” said Ms Cross.

“The Dutch ambassador, for example, is covering six or seven other countries from here, whereas we recently opened up a lot of new offices in the Caribbean.

“I literally only cover Trinidad and Tobago, because we’ve also got representation in St Lucia, Antigua, Barbuda and Grenada, and those people are going to be working on trade and investment opportunities too. So that outreach to the Caribbean is certainly happening.”

Ms Cross is a career diplomat and her route to Trinidad has taken her via postings to Morocco, Yemen – where as Deputy Ambassador she oversaw the smashing of computers and burning of documents when the embassy had to be evacuated – and Boston, where she was British Consul-General to New England.

They are all a long way from Beverley, where she grew up, but wherever she has been, she says she has always carried a bit of her home county with her.

“When I joined the Foreign Office, I did always feel a little bit of an outsider, because I didn’t go to a private school or Oxbridge, and I spoke with even more of a northern accent then, so it did feel like I was flying the flag for Yorkshire, and it still feels like that now,” she said.

“I’d always worked in pubs in Beverley and North Cave before I went to university. The skills I use in my job now: emotional intelligence, talking people down, negotiating with people, understanding what people want and how to give it to them, hard work – all that sort of thing. I learned all that working in the pubs of Yorkshire.”

In her trade development work, which occupies around a third of her working week, Ms Cross’s greatest contribution may prove to be in helping to craft a favourable environment in the country for small British businesses.

In 2011 she took a sabbatical, returning from a posting in New York to take up a job in the original York, and while there she and husband Phil Saltonstall set up Brass Castle, the Malton-based brewery he still runs.

“The fact that I took a career break and worked to set up a small business gives me added insight into the challenges that small businesses face,” she said.

“This is partly why I’m enthusiastic about making sure we can provide small and medium-sized enterprises with support and assistance where possible; we’re not just looking at the big players.

“Understanding the challenges and wanting to make a difference for these small businesses has definitely grown out of my experience at Brass Castle.”

She also takes every opportunity she can to promote businesses from the North, and sees promising opportunities for Yorkshire in Trinidad and Tobago’s renewable energy sector, which its government is keen to develop.

It has significant reserves of natural gas, but its government wants renewables to account for 10 per cent of capacity by 2021 – although that may yet prove too ambitious given the disruption caused by coronavirus.

“On a global scale, renewable energy is one of the things that Yorkshire does really well,” she said. “Hull and Grimsby are world leaders in offshore wind and the supply chain that goes with that. So yes, I kind of sneak in my support for Yorkshire via the renewables sector.”

If that sounds, well, sneaky, she says sometimes that kind of approach is necessary.

“Sometimes we’re just so mod-est; we get on with doing things brilliantly, like we always do, and we don’t shout about it or blow our own trumpet – but other people do it for us,” she said.

“The Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago did his post-grad in geology in Leeds and has lots of fond memories of it. He’s still telling people about it 50 years after he was there, which just shows the impact of the North.”