Britain’s UN ambassador to lead international development department

By on 03/10/2017
Matthew Rycroft, permanent secretary at the Department for International Development (DfID) (Image courtesy: Crown Copyright).

Matthew Rycroft, the UK’s ambassador to the United Nations, has been appointed as permanent secretary at Britain’s foreign aid ministry, the Department for International Development (DfID).

The appointment of the high-flying diplomat, which will take effect in January 2018, was announced on Friday by cabinet secretary Sir Jeremy Heywood.

Rycroft succeeds Sir Mark Lowcock, who left in July to take up the post of under-secretary-general for humanitarian affairs with the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs and emergency relief coordinator at the United Nations. Nick Dyer is serving as DfID’s permanent secretary in the interim.

During a 28-year career with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Rycroft has served in a wide range of senior posts including the prime minister’s private secretary on foreign affairs, FCO chief operating officer, Europe Director, and British ambassador to Bosnia and Herzegovina.

“I am delighted to announce the appointment of Matthew Rycroft as the Permanent Secretary for the Department for International Development,” Sir Jeremy said. “He is doing an excellent job as the UK permanent representative to the UN and will bring to the role a wealth of relevant experience from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and Number Ten.

“I look forward to working with him as he starts his work delivering DfID’s important mission. I would also like to thank Nick Dyer for his excellent custodianship of the Department pending Matthew’s arrival in January 2018.”

Priti Patel, secretary of state for international development, said: “Matthew’s track record throughout his career, and his interest in international development, mean that he brings to the role a global perspective and understanding.

“This is central to my ambition that we continue to lead the UK’s work to end extreme poverty and to build a safer, healthier, more prosperous world for people in developing countries and in the UK.”

The headquarters of the Department for International Development in London Image courtesy: UK Department for International Development).

Rycroft received a CBE for his work as private secretary for foreign affairs to then prime minister Tony Blair from 2002 to 2004, covering topics including Europe, Northern Ireland and defence issues.

He took part in the Dayton peace talks on Bosnia as head of the political section of the FCO’s Eastern Adriatic Department in the immediate aftermath of the Bosnian War, following an early career posting at the British Embassy in Paris. He was later posted to Washington.

On Sir Mark’s departure in July, anonymous sources close to ministers gave hostile briefings to the press, prompting an angry reaction from the FDA Union – which represents civil service managers and leaders. “All too often this particular brand of political cowardice rears its ugly head as ministers feel the pressure to look for a convenient scapegoat,” said general secretary Dave Penman. “Instead of preaching about leadership, it’s time some politicians demonstrated it and publicly defended their staff from these unwarranted, vicious attacks.”

Priti Patel has since been linked to further press briefings attacking the salaries of senior civil servants. It appears that Matthew Rycroft will need all his diplomatic skills to remain on good terms with both his Brexiteer, aid-sceptic boss, and his committed but disgruntled DfID civil servants.

About Liz Heron

Liz Heron is a journalist based in London, who specialises in international news. She worked on daily newspapers for 16 years, reporting extensively on both general news and education. She was Education Editor of the South China Morning Post in Hong Kong and has contributed to a wide range of British media including The Independent, The Guardian and the BBC.

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