Woke ex-civil servants brand Foreign Office 'elitist' and say there's too many 'colonial era pictures on the wall'

Woke ex-civil servants brand Foreign Office 'elitist' and say there's too many 'colonial era pictures on the wall'

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GB News
Holly Bishop

By Holly Bishop

Published: 08/04/2024

- 13:30

Updated: 08/04/2024

- 13:40

The ex-employees said that the Foreign Office is 'anchored in the past' and that it needs to 'modernise' its working environment

Former civil servants have labelled the Foreign Office “elitist” and have called for “fewer colonial-era pictures on the walls” as they demand a rebrand.

A new report from a group of ex-Whitehall officials has called for the Foreign Office to be scrapped and be replaced with a new Department for International Affairs.

The paper, titled The World in 2040: Renewing the UK’s Approach to International Affairs, said that the Foreign Office is “anchored in the past” and that it needs to “modernise” its working environment.

The report was authored by a group of the UK’s top former diplomats, including the former cabinet secretary Lord Sedwill, the former No 10 foreign policy adviser Tom Fletcher and the former director general at the Foreign Office Moazzam Malik.

The portraits of Emperor Napoleon III and Empress Eugenie at the top of the Muses Stair below the glass octagonal lantern, in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) in 2017/Foreign Office signs

Former civil servants have branded the Foreign Office 'elitist' and called for a rebrand


The trio met with a group of former ministers, ambassadors and senior officials last October in Oxford to discuss ways to reform the UK’s approach to international relations.

In the report, the ex-civil servants said the department “all too often operates like a giant private office for the foreign secretary of the day” and instead needs to focus on delivering the UK's long-term goals.

“The merger of Foreign Office and the Department for International Development, to create the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO), was presented as an opportunity to leverage the strengths of both departments: short-term diplomacy and a long-term strategic focus on real-world challenges. But it has struggled to deliver. A more effective approach requires a sustained focus on the international challenges that will shape the UK’s prosperity and security,” the report said.

They said that a rebrand would signal the UK is moving forward, with its current iteration being “anchored in the past”.


Interior of the ornate ceiling in the Locarno Suite at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office

In the report, the ex-civil servants said the department needs to focus on delivering the UK's long-term goals


The report explained: “The physical surroundings [of the Foreign Office headquarters] also hint at the Foreign Office’s identity: somewhat elitist and rooted in the past. Modernising premises – perhaps with fewer colonial-era pictures on the walls – might help create a more open working culture and send a clear signal about Britain’s future.”

The UK also must become more of a “team player” and look outside of their traditional alliances with the US and Europe going forward, the ex-civil servants stressed.

“Globally, economic and geopolitical power will be more diffuse as regionally strong countries - 'middle powers' - exert greater influence over international affairs,” they said.

“This does not mean that the UK will retreat from existing alliances, but we will need to build new issue-based alliances with states whose interests and values may be less closely aligned.”

\u200bLord Sedwill

Lord Sedwill was one of the report's authors


It highlighted Canada, Japan and Switzerland as countries it should look to emulate, as they are “able to use their size and independence to leverage significant influence on the world stage”.

The group have suggested that one per cent of gross national income be devoted to international engagement, including aid. This would be alongside the current commitment of two per cent on GDP spending.

A Foreign Office spokesperson said: “We are maximising the benefits of merging diplomacy and development in the FCDO to better deal with global challenges, as seen in our responses to Russia's invasion of Ukraine and in the Middle East.

“We are committed to having an even greater impact and influence on the world stage - which is why we recently completed a review across the department to ensure we are effectively directing our funds, streamlining all our international policy work, and building our capability for the future.”

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