The Foreign Commonwealth and Development Office will combine Britain’s diplomatic skills and development expertise to be “an even greater force for good,” Foreign Secretary Dominc Raab said at the launch of the new department.
As a shiny new brass plaque was fixed on the imposing 19th century edifice in Whitehall, the Foreign Secretary announced a new £119 million aid package to combat the threat of the Covid-19 pandemic and famine brought about by climate change and conflict.
“We can only tackle these global challenges by combining our diplomatic strength with our world-leading aid expertise,” he said.
As the UK takes on the presidencies of the G7 and COP26, the Foreign Secretary will urge other countries to ‘step up’ and help the developing world.
The new aid package is expected to alleviate extreme hunger for more than six million people in Yemen, the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Central African Republic, South Sudan and Sudan.
While observers welcome the enhanced benefits of greater coordination of development and diplomatic work, some former mandarins have raised concerns, as one noted: “I am concerned by comments suggesting that the DFID budget will be treated as a cashpoint for funding other activity abroad.”
He also warned that Britain’s leading reputation on poverty reduction was at risk if development aid is used as a “foreign policy lever”.
Seasoned diplomat at the top
The senior civil servant entrusted with the task of ensuring the merger is greater than the sum of its parts is Sir Philip Barton, who brings a wealth of experience to the new role.
The seasoned diplomat served as High Commissioner to India and prior to that was Director General in the Cabinet Office working on the UK’s longer-term response to the COVID-19 crisis.
Sir Philip was previously Director General, Consular and Security in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office from April 2017 until January 2020 and was Acting Chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee from 2016 to 2017. He has also worked in the Cabinet Office as Director General on the 2016 Anti-Corruption Summit and Director Foreign Policy and Afghanistan/Pakistan Co-ordinator supporting the National Security Council. He was Private Secretary to Prime Ministers John Major and Tony Blair.
In a Tweet on taking up his position, Sir Philip said the FCDO would ensure Britain was “a leading force for good in the world”.