UK Foreign Office reshuffles senior roles for Ukraine crisis

Move triggers fears of further erosion of country's international development reputation

Senior diplomat Moazzam Malik has reportedly declined a role in the new set up. Jefta Images/Future Publishing via Getty Images
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The UK’s Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office will expand its senior team and increase the department’s focus on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

But that shake up has not been universally well received, one report says, with a senior diplomat and international development expert reported to have “declined” a post in the restructuring.

Moazzam Malik, who is the director-general for Africa and has played an important role in the UK’s response to the situation is Sudan, “didn’t agree with the new structure or how it was being done”, a Whitehall source told The Daily Telegraph.

He was formerly a senior figure at the Department for International Development before it merged with the Foreign Office in 2020 to become the presently FCDO. A practising Muslim, Mr Malik also served as UK ambassador to Indonesia.

The Telegraph reported that there were concerns that the shift in focus would have a detrimental impact on the UK’s development programme and work on global health and climate.

“The FCDO is expanding its senior team to deliver on the foreign secretary’s priorities and respond to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which has altered the wider geopolitical landscape,” an FCDO representative told The National.

“International development remains a core FCDO priority — and we are boosting our senior team to tackle the major humanitarian implications of the Ukraine crisis and deliver the government’s wider objectives.”

A director general humanitarian and development role has been created, which will involve tackling the humanitarian implications of the crisis in Ukraine. Sir Tim Barrow, a former ambassador to Ukraine and Russia, will also be promoted to become the second most senior civil servant at the FCDO.

The government had been criticised last year for dropping aid spending from 0.7 per cent to 0.5 per cent of Gross National Income — a decision that will be reversed by 2024.

And there are concerns that the departure of Mr Malik marks another blow to the UK’s international development engagement.

“Malik has been vital to the merger since day one, so his resignation is a real blow to the department and to our relationship with Africa,” said Stephanie Draper, chief executive at humanitarian network Bond.

“A second permanent undersecretary and a director general for development and humanitarian assistance is welcome, but the FCDO urgently needs a dedicated international development minister in the Cabinet to drive the UK’s development priorities.

“The FCDO needs real senior-level expertise to help prevent future crisis, rather than constantly trying to deal with the aftermath.”

Responding to reports of the FCDO reshuffle, Douglas Alexander, a former International Development Secretary, said the abolition of the Department for International Development “and the subsequent loss of capability is not just an act of wilful vandalism to the UK’s soft power and international influence”.

“Even more fundamentally, it vandalises our ability to assist the world’s most vulnerable people,” he said.

A former British ambassador to Washington, Sir Christopher Meyer applauded the move, calling for an end to carping over the new strategic focus in the country's diplomatic leadership.

Updated: March 18, 2022, 5:42 PM