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Calls to reform ‘somewhat elitist’ Foreign Office

12 April 2024

Report from three former ambassadors makes little explicit reference to aid


The Clive monument outside the Foreign Office in King Charles Street, Westminster

The Clive monument outside the Foreign Office in King Charles Street, Westminster

CHRISTIAN AID has responded to a new report that calls for reform of the Foreign Office and brands it “somewhat elit­ist and rooted in the past”.

The charity’s head of UK advocacy and campaigns, Jennifer Larbie, said on Monday that reform should include “restoring the Department for International Development, and shifting resources and decision-making into the hands of communities most in need.

“We are living through a time when global poverty and hunger is on the rise. Yet all the evidence shows the decision to abolish the government department tasked with tackling these challenges has been a complete and utter disaster.”

The report, compiled by three former ambassadors, makes little explicit reference to aid, other than to recommend that expenditure on international development be set at one per cent of gross national income. It says, however, that there should be more flexibility about how aid is apportioned instead of mandating a certain percentage be spent specifically on humanitarian aid.

The former Ambassador to Lebanon and current Principal of Hertford College, Oxford, Tom Fletcher, along with the former Ambassador to Indonesia and honorary professor of the UCL Policy Lab, Moazzam Malik, and Lord Sedwill, a member of the House of Lords who was formerly Ambassador and NATO representative in Afghanistan, compiled the report after discussions with a wider group of former politicians, advisers, and diplomats.

The vision that emerges is of an approach to international affairs in which the various agencies that currently operate semi-autonomously, including GCHQ and the British Council, would be co-ordinated to create a “more joined up approach to strategy, governance and financial delegation”.

In an article for the Financial Times on Monday, Mr Fletcher, who is a former British Ambassador to Lebanon, wrote that the UK needed a “much better focused and co-ordinated set of mechanisms across government — including engagement with the devolved administrations — to deliver a coherent international policy”.

On the UK’s standing in the world, he said: “We have heft, but we need to use it better. That means doing things well, not shouting about how well we do things. It means engaging with humility and respect, and sharing power with countries beyond those that ran the world in 1945.”

A Downing Street spokesperson said that the Prime Minister had full confidence in the capabilities of the department, and that “the Foreign Office is doing vital work to protect and promote UK interests abroad.”

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