'Our country is stronger for your service': Sedwill confirms McDonald to retire as FCO perm sec

Departure comes as PM seeks new leadership for merged  Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office


McDonald as ambassador to Germany in 2015. Photo: Jens Kalaene/DPA/PA Images

Sir Simon McDonald, permanent secretary at the Foreign Office, has formally announced that he will leave the civil service next year.

In a letter confirming yesterday’s reports that the former diplomat was to step down, cabinet secretary Sir Mark Sedwill said the move would make McDonald the FCO’s last perm sec.

“As you explained in today’s message to the diplomatic service, you will be the last to hold that office, as your successor will be the first permanent secretary of the new Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office,” Sedwill wrote.


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“I know that he or she can count on your wisdom and passion for the refreshed global mission in preparing to forge a new department from the best of the culture of the FCO and [Department for International Development].”

The prime minister, Boris Johnson, announced his intention to create the new FCDO from a merger of the Foreign Office and DfID on Tuesday.

Johnson said the beefed-up department would "unite our aid with our diplomacy and bring them together in our international effort" and tackle a “dividing line between aid and foreign policy that] runs through our entire system”.

The plan has proved contentious, with three former prime ministers slamming the move and aid organisations saying they were not consulted.

It has been reported this weekend that McDonald’s departure came at the request of prime minister Boris Johnson, who wanted new leadership for the merged department, and McDonald’s message to staff said he "fully" respected the decision.

Johnson thanked the permanent secretary for his strong leadership and the "fantastic support" he had given him while he was foreign secretary between 2016 and 2018.

Sedwill’s letter confirmed that McDonald will step down as Foreign Office perm sec and head of the diplomatic service in autumn, when the new Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office is formed. He will then retire from the diplomatic service entirely next year.

McDonald’s nearly four-decade career began in the Foreign Office in 1982. He served in Jeddah, Riyadh, Bonn and Washington, DC before becoming PPS to the foreign secretary, Jack Straw, in 2001.

He has since served as ambassador to Israel and Germany, the Foreign Office’s director for Iraq, and foreign policy adviser to prime minister Gordon Brown.

He took up his current post in 2015.

“I thank you for your outstanding contribution to the UK’s public life over the past four decades,” Sedwill wrote.

“You have served with distinction in the most senior positions of the diplomatic service, including as the prime minister’s foreign policy adviser, HM ambassador to Germany, during which you oversaw an historic state visit, and as the FCO’s permanent secretary.

“You have been and remain an outstanding colleague and friend. Our country is stronger for your service. On behalf of the entire public service and the the country, I wish you and your family family well for the future.”

In a tweet announcing his departure, McDonald said: "Five years ago I started as PUS wanting @foreignoffice to be more expert, more agile and better equipped; we needed to reverse fragmentation of managing foreign policy by a unified effort. Creation of FCDO achieves that. Job done! Time to go: as I just told 4,500 colleagues online. 4,500 drawn from @DFID_UK & @foreignoffice embarking on FCDO venture together, aiming to blend best of both: New. Better. Co-created."

4,500 drawn from @DFID_UK & @foreignoffice embarking on FCDO venture together, aiming to blend best of both: New. Better. Co-created

— Sir Simon McDonald (@SMcDonaldFCO) June 19, 2020

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