Foreign Office head Simon McDonald to step down early next year – reports

Diplomat will oversee merger with DfID but will not lead FCDO long term, sources say


Sir Simon McDonald (right) was perm sec when Boris Johnson was foreign secretary. Photo: Andrew Matthews/PA Archive/PA Images

Sir Simon McDonald, permanent secretary at the Foreign Office, will step down early next year after the ministry has taken over the Department for International Development, it has been reported.

McDonald, a former ambassador to Germany and Israel who has led the Foreign Office for nearly five years, told staff yesterday that he would stay on in his post during the merger process, Sky News reports.

He will then become perm sec at the newly formed Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office in September, but will stay on for only a few months, according to the reports.


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McDonald’s five-year appointment as FCO perm sec comes to an end in August. In February it was reported that the diplomat, who was perm sec during Boris Johnson’s stint as foreign secretary from 2016 to 2018, was on a “hit list” of permanent secretaries Downing Street wanted to replace and would therefore not be asked to stay on for longer.

It is understood recruitment for McDonald’s successor as FCDO perm sec will begin in autumn.

The news of the merger came in an announcement this week, when the prime minister, Boris Johnson, said the beefed-up international department would "unite our aid with our diplomacy and bring them together in our international effort".

But the move has been heavily criticised by former prime ministers, international development secretaries and aid organisations.

Tony Blair, who founded DfID as Labour prime minister in 1997, said the move was “wrong and regressive”, while former Conservative PM David Cameron called it a “mistake”.

And despite Johnson’s claims there had been “massive consultation” about the merger, Stephanie Draper, chief executive of aid NGO network Bond, said it was happening “with no consultation and against the advice of aid scrutiny bodies, as well as our development sector”.

In April, McDonald told MPs that officials in the Foreign Office and DfID were looking at how the two departments would work more closely together in future, following the appointment of a joint team of ministers in February. Among other things, they were examining how to align pay and terms and conditions of staff, he said.

He said this “alignment agenda” would feature heavily in the government’s integrated review of foreign policy, defence and international development. The review had been set to report this summer, but has been paused because of the coronavirus pandemic.

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