Cookies: We use cookies to give you the best possible experience on our site. By continuing to use the site you agree to our use of cookies. Find out more
House of Commons Hansard
x
Work of the Department
05 November 2019
Volume 667
The edit just sent has not been saved. The following error was returned:
This content has already been edited and is awaiting review.

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) uses its global platform to promote a truly global Britain and support the UK’s values and interests—from helping victims of forced marriage to championing media freedom to securing market access for British companies.

Its 270 diplomatic posts are invaluable assets in 169 countries and territories. Its leadership within nine multilateral organisations shapes global agendas and sets global standards. It supports 31 Government partners, including Department for International Development, Department for International Trade and the British Council.

It is also a diplomatic network with ambitions to expand influence. By the end of 2020, the UK’s diplomatic network will have opened 12 new diplomatic missions across the globe since 2018, recruited 1,000 more staff members and boast more sovereign missions than any other European country.

The Department has also provided extensive support to the Government’s efforts to prepare for Brexit. This has included contingency planning for a “no-deal” situation, engagement to influence the EU on negotiation priorities and an extension to article 50, providing support to UK nationals living in and travelling to the EU, and planning for the UK’s future partnership with the EU.

Since the strategic defence and security review in 2015, this Department has made significant achievements in the following priority areas.

Protecting our people

Safeguarding our national security by countering terrorism, extremism, weapons proliferation, and other state and non-state threats in co-operation with allies and partners. Assisting British people living, travelling and working around the world in times of need.

In 2018-19, the Department provided invaluable assistance to over 22,000 British people around the world, and ongoing support to 7,700 existing cases. We responded to 14 major incidents overseas, from terrorist attacks and natural disasters to high profile political and security issues.

This year, the Department partnered with the Civil Aviation Authority and the Department of

Transport to carry out HMG’s biggest peacetime repatriation operation of more than 150,000 people following the insolvency of Thomas Cook. In 2017, 85,000 passengers were returned to the UK after the collapse of Monarch.

The Department played a vital role in the response to Hurricanes Irma and Maria in 2017. The response involved 138 substantive updates made to travel advice for affected countries during the crisis, liaising with 14 foreign missions to answer queries on their nationals affected by the hurricanes, answering over 3,800 calls to the crisis hotline and deploying 82 FCO staff to provide support to 11 different countries in the region.

Projecting our global influence

Projecting and promoting the values and influence of a global Britain, strengthening our partnerships and the rules based international system. Supporting good governance, democracy, rule of law and human rights; preventing and resolving conflict; and building stability overseas.

In 2018, the Department helped to ensure a robust international response to the use of chemical weapons, following the attempted murder of a Russian dissident and his daughter in Salisbury using a chemical nerve agent. As a result, 28 countries and NATO expelled 130 Russian undeclared intelligence officers.

The UK is proud to have helped train almost 3,000 volunteers for the white helmets (a volunteer humanitarian organisation operating in Syria and Turkey) who have saved over 115,000 lives through their emergency rescue services in Syria. Through post in Geneva and in New York, the Department has worked to pressure the regime and its backers to end the fighting in north west Syria, and has supported efforts towards greater accountability for those who have attacked unarmed civilians, schools and hospitals. The Department has continued its strong deterrence messaging against the use of chemical weapons in Syria, including through support for the organisation for the prohibition of chemical weapons and the targeted and proportionate military response to the chemical weapons attack in Douma in April 2018.

UK climate change diplomacy led by the Department helped achieve an historic international agreement to tackle climate change in Paris in December 2015. For the first time ever, 195 countries agreed to act together to combat global warming and reduce carbon emissions. In 2020, alongside Italy, the UK will host the United Nations framework convention on climate change conference of the parties, a clear signal of the UK’s global leadership on climate change and commitment to reducing greenhouse emissions to zero by 2050.

The UK has been a global leader in the international fight against the ivory trade, legislating to introduce the toughest ivory ban in Europe and help bring an end to the poaching of elephants. In 2018, the FCO-organised illegal wildlife trade conference was attended by 1,300 participants, and resulted in significant, ongoing pledges by several countries.

Promoting our prosperity

Promoting our prosperity by opening markets, driving economic reform, championing British business, and supporting free trade and sustainable global growth.

In calendar year 2018, the Department continued to play a unique role within the Government’s cross-departmental conflict, stability and security fund (CSSF) and make a critical contribution to the CSSF’s work to tackle instability and prevent conflicts that threaten UK interests. The Department both delivered the majority of CSSF programmes and co-ordinated wider cross-Government efforts at the country and regional level, drawing on its deep foreign policy expertise. For example, in Ukraine FCO-led CSSF programmes have strengthened peacebuilding and resilience of conflict-affected communities, assisting more than 111,000 internally displaced peoples and supporting increased capacity in key Government ministries.

The Department has led on negotiations on Gibraltar, delivering an extensive set of agreements, as well as EU exit preparations on the other overseas territories. The Department has also supported the negotiation of arrangements for the sovereign base areas on Cyprus, and prepared for the implications of EU exit on UK sanctions policy.

In 2018-19, FCO-delivered prosperity fund programmes, worth a combined £850 million from now until 2023, began to deliver expertise and assistance in sectors and countries where there is high potential to support the inclusive economic growth needed to reduce poverty. Programmes initiated included a £45 million global anti-corruption programme, and £34 million ASEAN economic reform and low carbon programmes. The prosperity fund programme promotes economic reforms and remove barriers to trade, reform key sectors such as infrastructure, energy, financial services, future cities, education and healthcare, and tackle corruption.

In 2018, BAE Systems (BAES) won the tender to design and build nine future frigates for the Royal Australian Navy. It followed the Department playing an important role supporting the cross-Whitehall effort, and leading the campaign’s co-ordination in Australia. This outcome is a significant export boost for the UK as we prepare to leave the EU. It will secure around £2 billion of direct exports through British designed and manufactured components like engines (Rolls Royce) and Sonars (Thales UK and Ultra). It also opens doors to UK SMEs and secures approximately £10 billion worth of exports through the life of the programme. The whole of life sustainment win for BAES as a national shipbuilding enterprise partner is likely to generate another £40 billion.

In 2018, the Department hosted the largest ever Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting, with 46 Heads of Government and 49 Foreign Ministers. As chair-in-office, the Department has since been working to strengthen the Commonwealth with delivery of ambitious commitments on prosperity, security, fairness and sustainability with a focus on supporting small island states. Moreover, the Department has achieved Foreign Ministers’ agreement to reforms that will improve the governance of the Commonwealth secretariat.

[HCWS89]