Obituary: Sir Julian Bullard

Diplomat who was the guiding hand behind the expulsion of 105 KGB agents

Julian Bullard, who has died aged 78, will be remembered by his colleagues in the British diplomatic service, and in those of our close partners and allies, as an outstanding political director in the early 1980s, and as an equally successful ambassador in Bonn from 1984 to 1988. He will also be remembered as the head of the Foreign Office's East European and Soviet department (EESD) who was the guiding hand behind the expulsion of 105 members of the Soviet official establishment in London in September 1971, for activities incompatible with their diplomatic status.

Both the title, and the role of political director, came to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) after Britain joined the European Community and began to cooperate closely with partners on important questions of foreign policy. In these new circumstances, the foreign secretary found himself relying for official policy advice increasingly on the political director, who would accompany him to political cooperation meetings in the European Community/European Union framework, to Nato meetings, to United Nations meetings and on major bilateral visits; and who would more often than not have prepared the ground beforehand in meetings with his fellow political directors.

Julian, in the words of Lord Carrington, was a very great success, both as political director and as ambassador in Germany; "...the most likeable of men and this, combined with his intellect and commonsense, made him an outstanding public servant". He was also, in my own experience, the most generous and quietly inspiring person to work for and with.

To say that Julian had a diplomatic background would be part of the truth, as his father, Sir Reader Bullard, was indeed a distinguished diplomat. But he got into the Foreign Office by a combination of intelligence, hard work and determination, and not through any advantage of birth. His diaries for 1930 to 1934 were edited and published by Julian and Margaret Bullard, under the title Inside Stalin's Russia (2000).

To say that Julian had an Oxford background comes much nearer to a whole truth. His mother was a daughter of a master of Balliol. Julian went to the Dragon school in Oxford, later to Rugby school and then to Magdalen College, Oxford, where he gained a first in classics and won a prize fellowship to All Souls. Oxford was also a key factor in Julian's marriage to Margaret Stephens, a graduate of St Hilda's, who was to share with him for more than 50 years a commitment to family, to diplomatic life at home and abroad, and also a strong sense that Oxford was home.

Julian's early postings, including Amman and Dubai, suggested grooming as a senior Arabist. But his career was more importantly marked by an assignment to Moscow, and then to be head of EESD; and by what was to be a total of 11 years service in Bonn, over three postings which took him from the chancery to minister to ambassador.

Julian ran EESD at a time when, as he later explained in an article for this newspaper, it was hard going to encourage interest in, and differentiation between, the non-Soviet members of the Warsaw Pact: "'Remind me why I am going', the minister would say on the outward aeroplane, and sometimes, 'Remind me why I went' on the way back."

But there was a serious problem with the Soviet Union itself, which had been allowed over the years to build up a KGB presence in London so large that it had become impossible to control. There were only two choices: to do nothing much, and go on being rolled over; or to do something radical.

Julian persuaded the foreign secretary, Sir Alec Douglas Home, to go for the radical approach. Hence the much-publicised expulsion of the 105. The Soviet authorities, not surprisingly, were unhappy; but much of the talk about Britain being excluded for years from any constructive dialogue with the Soviet Union, and thus from trade opportunities and from influence in the councils of the west, came from nearer home. Julian cannot have felt too unhappy when, in November 1973, he accompanied Sir Alec on an official visit to Moscow, at the invitation of the Soviet foreign minister Andrei Gromyko, with the clear implication that it was time to look forward.

On the German side, Julian had been recognised, after his first stint in Bonn in the 1960s, as an authority on the politics of the federal republic and the history, culture and language of Germany. He also won respect as a leading expert on the complex treaties which had enabled the federal republic to become a state, while the four powers retained reserved rights on questions concerning German unification and Berlin.

Christopher Mallaby, who succeeded Julian as ambassador, has underlined the unusual influence which Julian had established in discussion with German interlocutors of the themes of the time. He had worked hard to develop Britain's relationship with the republic, and left it in good shape for the transformation of Europe and Germany which was to surprise the world soon after his retirement in 1988. And on which he was to comment in a series of lucid and soundly judged articles for this newspaper.

After leaving the FCO, Julian went back to Oxford, where he and Margaret had bought a house, and to All Souls where, as a distinguished fellow, he combined with the then Chichele professor to run a highly regarded foreign policy study programme. He also became chairman of the council and pro-chancellor of Birmingham University, where he presided over the formation of the Institute for European Law and the Institute for German Studies, the latter in particular being a reflection of the influence and trust which he had earned during his diplomatic career.

Made a GCMG in 1987, in his later years Julian suffered from Parkinson's disease, which had the effect of making him not less thoughtful, but less mobile and less easily audible. His determination to remain engaged in the social and intellectual life of Oxford was strongly reinforced by Margaret, whose support became increasingly necessary and unstintingly given. Julian is survived by his wife, two sons, two daughters and five grandchildren.

· Julian Leonard Bullard, diplomat, born March 8 1928; died May 25 2006

Brian Fall

The GuardianTramp

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