Foreign Policy Leaders call for a stronger Foreign Office alongside an independent Department for International Development

 

A new report published on the 18th June by the British Foreign Policy Group Running Out of Credit: The Decline of the Foreign Office and the Case for Sustained Finding sets out the trajectory and impact of cuts to the Foreign Office back to 1973, and urges the government to increase funding for the Foreign Office (FCO) to ensure it can deliver the UK’s post-Brexit ambitions and strengthen Britain’s global influence.

From Left to Right: Sir Malcolm Rifkind, Rt Hon Dame Margaret Beckett MP, Rt Hon Hilary Benn MP, Tom Tugendhat MP, Sir Simon Fraser, Tom Cargill and report author Sam Goodman.

From Left to Right: Sir Malcolm Rifkind, Rt Hon Dame Margaret Beckett MP, Rt Hon Hilary Benn MP, Tom Tugendhat MP, Sir Simon Fraser, Tom Cargill and report author Sam Goodman.

The report makes clear that the steady decline of the Foreign Office in the past few decades can no longer be ignored. Core diplomatic spending is set to be at its lowest in 20 years, whilst FCO staff in both the UK and overseas have seen their numbers fall dramatically.

A key finding of the report revealed that diverting ODA spending to the FCO, and folding the Department for International Development (DFID) into the Foreign Office were both counterproductive, and would put more pressure on an already overstretched department. The report argues that spending 0.7% of GDP on aid and having an independent DFID has allowed the UK to punch above its weight and enhanced its global reputation at a time when its diplomatic infrastructure has fallen into disrepair.

It goes on to argue that, as one of the most widely respected aid agencies, DFID provides Britain with much-needed prestige and power on the world stage and any arguments to roll DFID into the Foreign Office for a quick-fix solution would harm both the FCO and DFID, and strike a heavy blow to British foreign policy.

The Coalition for Global Prosperity co-hosted the launch of the report with the British Foreign Policy Group in parliament on the day of its publication, with keynote speeches from Sir Malcolm Rifkind (Foreign Secretary 1995-1997), Rt Hon Dame Margaret Beckett MP (Foreign Secretary 2006-2007), Rt Hon Hilary Benn MP (Chair, Brexit Committee and former International Development Secretary), Tom Tugendhat MP (Chair, Foreign Affairs Committee), Sir Simon Fraser (Permanent Under- Secretary of State, Foreign Office 2010-2015), Tom Cargill (Executive Director, BFPG) and report author Sam Goodman.

Former Permanent Under-Secretary of State at the Foreign Office Sir Simon Fraser stated that plugging the FCO budget gap with ODA is “fundamentally not the solution” and that DFID should be responsible for ODA as it “is very good at it”. He added that diplomats needed to focus on much-needed diplomacy rather than being responsible for leading on British trade and development.

Chair of the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs Tom Tugendhat MP declared he’s “not a believer that we should regroup departments” as DFID and DIT play critical specialist roles. Adding that the role of the FCO should be as the country’s “principle diplomat” and we should “no more expect diplomats to know how to steer the Queen Elizabeth than how to lead on international trade and development”.

Former Secretary of State for International Development and Chair of the Select Committee on Exiting the Union Rt Hon Hilary Benn MP agreed that “The people who are very good at spending ought to be the ones doing it”, and assured the audience that “DFID is here to stay” citing that he had seen for himself how “the Foreign Office, Department for International Development and Ministry of Defence are working together to maximise Britain’s impact globally”.

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Former Foreign Secretary and member of the National Security Committee, Dame Margaret Beckett MP agreed, adding that “Our leadership in defence, development and diplomacy is absolutely critical to Britain’s national security”.