LONDON — The U.K. Foreign Office’s top civil servant is standing down after Prime Minister Boris Johnson indicated he wants a new person to lead a newly merged foreign and overseas aid department this fall.
Downing Street confirmed Simon McDonald, permanent undersecretary at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO), is stepping down.
“We are making sure that we have a new permanent secretary for the new Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) and we will have that person in place from the start,” a spokesperson said.
According to Sky News and the BBC, McDonald told staff in an email Friday morning that he “fully” respects Johnson’s decision to have someone else lead the new department from its inception and would stand down as soon as the new official is in place and ready to lead the FCDO from September.
But when the FCO-Department for International Development (DfID) merger was announced earlier this week, McDonald had told staff he would stay on in the new department until the new year, according to Sky News.
In a statement via the spokesperson, Johnson thanked McDonald for his service and the “fantastic support he gave me while I was foreign secretary.” He said that “Simon … leaves the department in excellent shape to make the most of the exciting opportunities the lie ahead through the new Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office.”
The spokesperson added that McDonald’s five years in the role was “a standard length of tour, in terms of a civil service role in the FCO.”
McDonald had been the subject of negative anonymous briefing in recent months, with a report in the Sunday Telegraph that he was on a No. 10 “hit list” of senior civil servants at odds with Downing Street on Brexit and other issues.
In April, McDonald was forced to “clarify” remarks to a House of Commons committee after claiming it was a “political decision” for the U.K. not to take part in a EU medical equipment procurement scheme in the early days of the coronavirus crisis.