Foreign Office ‘must regain Whitehall power on Brexit, trade and foreign aid’

Written by Emilio Casalicchio and Tamsin Rutter on 29 May 2018 in News
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Foreign Affairs Committee chair calls for a “revolution at the heart of government” to fix siloed foreign policy

Foreign Affairs Committee chair Tom Tugendhat. Credit: Victoria Jones/PA 

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office should regain control of trade, intelligence and overseas development in a “revolution at the heart of government”, according to the chair of Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee.

Tom Tugendhat said that “successive foreign secretaries – including the current one – have been hobbled” by the lack of power at the Foreign Office, while siloes have been created in UK foreign policy.

He said the FCO should take over strategic control of foreign policy ahead of Britain’s exit from the European Union.


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In a speech made today but reported over the weekend, the MP said at the Royal United Services Institute that the Foreign Office “has lost control of key aspects of overseas influence, like trade and development, and has been obliged to take part in a tug-of-war with the Cabinet Office over anything that involved national security and the EU”.

He said: “This has created silos in our foreign policy, reducing our ability to balance across areas of influence.”

He stated that making a success of foreign policy was more important now that at any time since the end of the second world war. “We need to make the Foreign Office the strategic engine of our foreign policy again,” he added.

Tugendhat argued that “insight, influence, trade, alliances and force” are five UK strengths that must be balanced, and called for them to come together within the Foreign Office remit.

Despite swipes made by Tugendhat at Boris Johnson in the past, the committee chair called for more power to be given to the foreign secretary.

“Successive foreign secretaries – including the current one – have been hobbled,” he said. “They’ve had the title, but they haven’t had the power.”

When Britain voted to leave the EU, responsibility for Brexit negotiations and future post-Brexit trade negotiations was handed to two new departments, the Department for Exiting the European Union and the Department for International Trade respectively.

Some critics, including former Foreign Office permanent secretary Sir Simon Fraser, have said the FCO was “disempowered” by this Whitehall reorganisation. Fraser branded DIT an “unnecessary creation”.

Civil Service World’s sister publication PoliticsHome understands Tugendhat is not calling for a break-up of other departments but a rather a new system of joined-up working.

“The very nature of the departments means that their work is overlapping to an extent and it’s just bringing that all together” a source explained.

“The foreign secretary obviously has a very important role and it’s about giving him whatever tools possible as we renegotiate our relationship with the world as a result of Brexit.”

Tugendhat, a Conservative MP who has clashed with Boris Johnson in the past, has been tipped as a potential future challenger to Johnson as party leader. The ex-army officer has also said it would be “fantastic” to head up the Foreign Office himself.

He branded his proposals announced today as a “revolution at the heart of government”.

About the author

Emilio Casalicchio is chief reporter for PoliticsHome, where a version of this story first appeared. Tamsin Rutter is senior reporter for Civil Service World

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