Foreign and Commonwealth Office

"Foreign Office" redirects here. For other uses, see Foreign Office (disambiguation).
Foreign and Commonwealth Office
Welsh: Y Swyddfa Dramor a Chymanwlad

Foreign and Commonwealth Office Main Building, London, seen from Whitehall
Department overview
Formed 1968 (1968)
Preceding agencies
Jurisdiction United Kingdom
Headquarters King Charles Street
London, SW1
51°30′09″N 0°07′39.7″W / 51.50250°N 0.127694°W / 51.50250; -0.127694
Annual budget £1.1bn (current) & £0.1bn (capital) in 2015-16[1]
Minister responsible
Department executive
Child agencies
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The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO), commonly called the Foreign Office, is a department of the Government of the United Kingdom. It is responsible for protecting and promoting British interests worldwide. It was created in 1968 by merging the Foreign Office and the Commonwealth Office.

The head of the FCO is the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, commonly abbreviated to "Foreign Secretary" (currently Boris Johnson). This position is regarded as one of the four most prestigious appointments in the Cabinet, alongside those of Chancellor of the Exchequer and Home Secretary. Together with the Prime Minister, these are the Great Offices of State.

The FCO is managed from day-to-day by a civil servant, the Permanent Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, who also acts as the Head of the Her Majesty's Diplomatic Service. This position is held by Sir Simon McDonald, who took office on 1 September 2015.



The FCO Ministers are as follows:[2]

Minister Rank Portfolio
The Rt Hon. Boris Johnson MP Secretary of State Overall responsibility, Policy, Honours, Intelligence Policy, Cyber Security
The Rt Hon. Sir Alan Duncan KCMG MP Minister of State The Americas, Europe, Central Asia, NATO and European Security, Defence and International Security, The Falklands, Polar Regions, Migration, Protocol, Human Resources, OSCE and Council of Europe, Relations with Parliament, FCO Finance, Information and Technology
The Rt Hon. Baroness Anelay of St John's DBE PC FRSA Minister of State All FCO business in the Lords, The Commonwealth (institution), Overseas Territories (excluding Falklands, Sovereign Base Areas, and Gibraltar), The Caribbean, Prime Minister's Special Representative on Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict, Human Rights, The UN, International Organisations, Peacekeeping, International Criminal Court, Climate Change, International Energy Security Policy
Tobias Ellwood MP Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State Middle East, Africa, Counter Terrorism, Countering Violent Extremism, Consular Policy, Illegal Wildlife Trade, FCO Services
Alok Sharma MP Parliamentary Under Secretary of State Asia, Australasia and the Pacific, Communications, Public Diplomacy, Olympics Legacy, Chevening, GREAT Campaign, Economic Diplomacy, Estates and Security, Drugs and International Crime

History of the department

The Foreign Office

The Foreign Office building by Sir George Gilbert Scott, viewed from Horse Guards Road
Eighteenth century

The Foreign Office was formed in March 1782 by combining the Southern and Northern Departments of the Secretary of State, each of which covered both foreign and domestic affairs in their parts of the Kingdom. The two departments' foreign affairs responsibilities became the Foreign Office, whilst their domestic affairs responsibilities were assigned to the Home Office. The Home Office is technically the senior.[3]

Nineteenth century

During the 19th century, it was not infrequent for the Foreign Office to approach The Times newspaper and ask for continental intelligence, which was often superior to that conveyed by official sources.[4]

One of the most influential Times journalists was Valentine Chirol. British Ambassadors across Europe communicated with him on a number of political and local issues.[5]

Twentieth century

During World War I, the Arab Bureau was set up within the British Foreign Office as a section of the Cairo Intelligence Department.

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office

The FCO was formed in 1968, from the merger of the short-lived Commonwealth Office and the Foreign Office. The Commonwealth Office had been created only in 1966, by the merger of the Commonwealth Relations Office and the Colonial Office, and the Commonwealth Relations Office had been formed by the merger of the Dominions Office and the India Office in 1947—with the Dominions Office having been split from the Colonial Office in 1925.

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office held responsibility for international development issues between 1970 and 1974, and again between 1979 and 1997. From 1997, this became the responsibility of the separate Department for International Development.

The National Archives website contains a Government timeline to show the departments responsible for Foreign Affairs from 1945.[6]


When David Miliband took over as Foreign Secretary in June 2007, he set in hand a review of the FCO’s strategic priorities. One of the key messages of these discussions was the conclusion that the existing framework of ten international strategic priorities, dating from 2003, was no longer appropriate. Although the framework had been useful in helping the FCO plan its work and allocate its resources, there was agreement that it needed a new framework to drive its work forward.

The new strategic framework consists of three core elements:

In August 2005 a report by management consultant group Collinson Grant was made public by Andrew Mackinlay. The report severely criticised the FCO's management structure, noting:

The Foreign Office commissioned the report to highlight areas which would help it achieve its pledge to reduce spending by £87 million over three years. In response to the report being made public, the Foreign Office stated it had already implemented the report's recommendations.[7]

In 2009 Gordon Brown created the position of chief scientific adviser (CSA) to the FCO. The first science adviser was David C. Clary.[8]

On 25 April 2010 the department apologised after The Sunday Telegraph obtained a "foolish" document calling for the upcoming September visit of Pope Benedict XVI to be marked by the launch of "Benedict-branded" condoms, the opening of an abortion clinic and the blessing of a same-sex marriage.[9]

In 2012 the Foreign Office was criticised by Gerald Steinberg, of the Jerusalem-based research institute, NGO Monitor, saying that the Foreign Office and the Department for International Development to Palestinian NGOs provided more than £500,000 in funding to Palestinian NGOs which he says "promote political attacks on Israel." In response, a spokesman for the Foreign Office said, “we are very careful about who and what we fund. The objective of our funding is to support efforts to achieve a two-state solution. Funding a particular project for a limited period of time does not mean that we endorse every single action or public comment made by an NGO or by its employees.”[10]

In September 2012 the FCO and the Canadian Department of Foreign Affairs signed a Memorandum of Understanding on diplomatic cooperation, which promotes the co-location of embassies, the joint provision of consular services, and common crisis response. The project has been criticised for further diminishing the UK's influence in Europe.[11]

Overseas Territories Directorate

The Overseas Territories Directorate is responsible for the British Overseas Territories.[12]

FCO Services

In April 2006 a new executive agency was established, FCO Services, to provide corporate service functions.[13] In April 2008 it moved to Trading Fund status so it had the ability to provide similar services which it already offers to the FCO,[14] to other government departments and even outside businesses.

It is accountable to the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, and provides secure support services to the FCO, other government departments and foreign governments and bodies with which the UK has close links.[15]

Since 2011 FCO Services has been developing the Government Secure Application Environment (GSAE) on a secure cloud computing platform to support UK government organisations.[16]

For over 60 years, FCO Services has been working globally, to keep customer assets and information safe. FCO Services is a public sector organisation, it is not funded by Vote and has to rely on the income it produces to meet its costs, by providing services on a commercial basis to customers both in the UK and throughout the world. Its Accounting Officer and Chief Executive is accountable to the Secretary of State for Foreign & Commonwealth Affairs and to Parliament, for the organisation's performance and conduct.


The western end of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s building in 1866, facing St. James's Park. It was then occupied by the Foreign and India Offices, while the Home and Colonial Offices occupied the Whitehall end

As well as embassies abroad, the FCO has premises within the UK:

Foreign and Commonwealth Office Main Building

The Grand Staircase in September 2013

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office occupies a building which originally provided premises for four separate government departments: the Foreign Office, the India Office, the Colonial Office, and the Home Office. Construction on the building began in 1861 and finished in 1868, and it was designed by the architect George Gilbert Scott.[17] Its architecture is in the Italianate style; Scott had initially envisaged a Gothic design, but Lord Palmerston, then Prime Minister, insisted on a classical style.[17] English sculptors Henry Hugh Armstead and John Birnie Philip produced a number of allegorical figures ('Art', 'Law', 'Commerce', etc.) for the exterior.

In 1925 the Foreign Office played host to the signing of the Locarno Treaties, aimed at reducing tension in Europe. The ceremony took place in a suite of rooms that had been designed for banqueting, which subsequently became known as the Locarno Suite.[18] During the Second World War, the Locarno Suite's fine furnishings were removed or covered up, and it became home to a foreign office code-breaking department.[18]

Due to increasing numbers of staff, the offices became increasingly cramped and much of the fine Victorian interior was covered over—especially after World War II. In the 1960s, demolition was proposed, as part of major redevelopment plan for the area drawn up by architect Sir Leslie Martin.[17] A subsequent public outcry prevented these proposals from ever being implemented. Instead, the Foreign Office became a Grade 1 listed building in 1970.[17] In 1978, the Home office moved to a new building, easing overcrowding.

With a new sense of the building's historical value, it underwent a 17-year, £100 million restoration process, completed in 1997.[17] The Locarno Suite, used as offices and storage since the Second World War, was fully restored for use in international conferences. The building is now open to the public each year over Open House Weekend.

In 2014 refurbishment to accommodate all Foreign and Commonwealth Office employees into one building was started by Mace.[19]

Ceiling above the Foreign Office’s Grand Staircase, 2008 
The Grand Staircase, 2008 
The Locarno Suite in September 2013 
The Durbar Court at the former India Office, now part of the FCO 


International relations are handled centrally from Westminster on behalf of the whole of Britain and its dependencies. However, the devolved administrations also maintain an overseas presence in the European Union, the USA and China alongside British diplomatic missions. These offices aim to promote their regional economies and ensure that devolved interests are taken into account in British foreign policy. Ministers from devolved administrations can attend international negotiations when permitted by the British Government e.g. EU fisheries negotiations.[20]

UK and devolved administration ministers meet at approximately quarterly intervals through the Joint Ministerial Committee (Europe), chaired by the Foreign Secretary to "discuss matters bearing on devolved responsibilities that are under discussion within the European Union."

See also


  1. Foreign Office Settlement. London: HM Treasury. 2015. Retrieved 20 May 2016.
  2. "Our ministers". GOV.UK. Foreign and Commonwealth Office. Retrieved 12 May 2015.
  3. A brief history of the FCO Foreign and Commonwealth Office
  4. Weller, Toni (June 2010). "The Victorian information age: nineteenth century answers to today's information policy questions?". History & Policy. United Kingdom: History & Policy. Retrieved 9 December 2010.
  5. The National Archives, Foreign Office correspondence
  6. National Archives
  7. "BBC NEWS - UK - UK Politics - Foreign Office management damned".
  8. Clary, David (2013-09-16). "A Scientist in the Foreign Office". Science & Diplomacy. 2 (3).
  9. "Apology over Pope 'condom' memo". BBC News. 25 April 2010.
  10. "'Investigate UK funding of Palestinian NGOs'".
  11. Gaspers, Jan (November 2012). "At the Helm of a New Commonwealth Diplomatic Network: In the United Kingdom's Interest?". Retrieved 2012-11-26.
  12. Foreign & Commonwealth Office (June 2012). The Overseas Territories: Security, Success and Sustainability (PDF). ISBN 9780101837422.
  13. "Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs". Hansard. March 2006.
  14. "The FCO Services Trading Fund Order 2008". UK Legislation. National Archives. Retrieved May 1, 2012.
  15. "Who we are". FCO Services. 2011-05-24. Retrieved 2011-06-18.
  16. Say, Mark (21 July 2011). "FCO Services pushes secure cloud platform". Guardian Government Computing. Retrieved May 1, 2012.
  17. 1 2 3 4 5 Foreign & Commonwealth Office History Archived 24 September 2012 at the Wayback Machine.
  18. 1 2 "Foreign & Commonwealth Office: Route" (PDF). FCO.
  19. "Mace wins £20m Whitehall Foreign Office refit".
  20. Scottish gains at Euro fish talks, Scottish Government, 16 December 2009

External links

Wikisource has the text of the 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica article Foreign Office.

Coordinates: 51°30′09.7″N 0°07′39.7″W / 51.502694°N 0.127694°W / 51.502694; -0.127694

This article is issued from Wikipedia - version of the 11/17/2016. The text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share Alike but additional terms may apply for the media files.