UK appoints head of merging foreign and aid departments

By on 04/08/2020 | Updated on 27/01/2022
Barton will be leaving his post as British high commissioner to India after only a few weeks to take up his new role at the FCDO

Sir Philip Barton has been appointed permanent under-secretary at the UK’s Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO).

Barton will head up the new department, which is to be formed next month after prime minister Boris Johnson announced in June that the Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO) and Department for International Development (DfID) – which manages the UK’s overseas aid – would merge.

Barton, who is a career civil servant, will take up the role at the FCDO on 1 September. Foreign secretary Dominic Raab described him as “an outstanding public servant and diplomat with experience across all areas of foreign policy”, able to “bring together the talent and expertise” of both departments while helping combine “foreign and development policy in a way that is innovative, ambitious and more integrated than ever before”.

Cabinet secretary Sir Mark Sedwill, who is to stand down next month, added that he is confident that under Barton’s leadership, the new organisation “will strengthen the UK’s global leadership by aligning our development and diplomatic efforts to bring more coherence to our international presence”.

‘Quite extraordinary mistake’

The decision to merge the FCO and DfID is a controversial one. Supporters of the move argue it will enable the foreign office to build aid spending around the UK’s national interests, while the reform’s opponents argue that it will waste time and resources and dilute the impact of UK aid spending on reducing poverty. Former international development secretary Andrew Mitchell described the decision as a “quite extraordinary mistake”.

Soon after the announcement of the merger, the FCO’s permanent under-secretary Sir Simon McDonald announced that he is to step down “at the request” of the PM.

London to New Delhi and back again

Barton, who was appointed British high commissioner to India in February and took up the role last month, had been director general in the Cabinet Office working on the UK’s longer-term response to the COVID-19 crisis and previously spent three years as director general, consular and security, in the FCO.

He joined the FCO in 1986 and has been posted to New Delhi, Caracus, Cyprus, Gibraltar and Washington, where he was deputy ambassador. He was British high commissioner to Pakistan from 2014 to 2016.

He has served as private secretary to prime ministers John Major and Tony Blair, and was acting chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee from 2016 to 2017.

About Mia Hunt

Mia is a journalist and editor with a background in covering commercial property, having been market reports and supplements editor at trade title Property Week and deputy editor of Shopping Centre magazine, now known as Retail Destination. She has also undertaken freelance work for several publications including the preview magazine of international trade show, MAPIC, and TES Global (formerly the Times Educational Supplement) and has produced a white paper on energy efficiency in business for E.ON. Between 2014 and 2016, she was a member of the Revo Customer Experience Committee and an ACE Awards judge. Mia graduated from Kingston University with a first-class degree in journalism and was part of the team that produced The River newspaper, which won Publication of the Year at the Guardian Student Media Awards in 2010.

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