FCDO job cuts 'at odds with Global Britain ambitions', warn MPs and peers

Joint committee also flags concerns over government’s “relaxed approach to national security”
MPs and peers said the government's approach to national security is at odds with its Global Britain agenda. Photo: Pippa Fowles/No.10 Downing Street

By Tevye Markson

21 Dec 2021

MPs and peers have sounded the alarm over the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office’s plans for job cuts.

The Joint Committee on the National Security Strategy also warned the prime minister it is “profoundly concerned about what appears to be a more relaxed approach to national security under this government”.

A letter to Boris Johnson says recent reports that the FCDO is planning to cut staff numbers by almost 10% by 2025 are “simply staggering” given the government’s ambitions for Global Britain, the “long history of cuts to the Foreign Office” and growing international challenges.

Unions have said morale is "rock bottom" in the FCDO, after an email was sent to staff last week announcing planned cuts to jobs.

And Bond, the UK network for organisations working in international development, said the cuts "could cost lives".

Simon Starling, director of policy, advocacy and research, said: "This loss of expertise couldn't happen at a worse time. The FCDO needs this experience to deal with the ongoing humanitarian crises in South Sudan and Afghanistan, as well as Covid-19 and the climate emergency.

"If the government is serious about their 'Global Britain' agenda then we need a fully-funded and fully-staffed FCDO."

The cuts have been denounced as "fake news" by Johnson and all references to the planned cuts have now been removed from FCDO systems.

Security concerns amid 'chaotic withdrawal' from Afghanistan

The letter from JCNSS chair Dame Margaret Beckett highlights the “chaotic withdrawal” from Afghanistan as a cause for concern and says the government turned to ad-hoc arrangements for its crisis response.

Beckett said the committee has been struck by the “apparent complacency and lack of urgency within government in the wake of the disastrous experience” for the UK and its allies in Afghanistan.

She said the committee is “deeply troubled by the persistent signs that our nation’s security is no longer a priority for the government”.

The manner of the withdrawal from Afghanistan exposed the National Security Council's failure to direct unified, cross-government plans for withdrawal, Beckett added.

The committee highlighted the reduction in the PM’s personal engagement with the work of the council, saying his attendance at meetings has dropped by around two-thirds.

Beckett also described the delay in setting up the Afghan Citizen Resettlement Scheme by the Home Office as "unforgivable".

The committee urged the prime minister to increase his attendance at the NSC, and said he should chair it at least once a fortnight. 

It also wants him to reinvigorate the NSC as the principal ministerial body for managing and assessing risks to national security and lead by example by engaging with  a "lessons learned” process on Afghanistan, especially in relation to the events of the past two years.

Becket said "now is the time for action" and the PM's leadership “is needed to ensure that the government has both the political direction and robust machinery to keep the UK, its citizens and its interests secure in the years ahead”.

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