FCO “Crisis No Deal Response”: Go On Holiday

Yesterday’s story about the penny dropping at the FCO that Brexit was really going to happen on October 31 triggered the FCO press office into claiming that they had, of course, been training people on trade policy since 2016.  Unfortunately for the junior press office spinner trying to sell the line that this was just an expansion, Guido’s FCO sources suggest otherwise…

It’s all getting a bit hairy over at the FCO, departments are now being told that more and more staff will have to be deployed – unexpectedly – for Brexit related duties. Many unhappy senior staff are having to decide what they will have to stop doing to compensate for redeployed staff and resources…

Simon McDonald, the FCO’s Permanent-Under-Secretary, has written to staff telling them; “Preparing for a no deal response will become the FCO’s main effort… our EU exit work has to intensify across the FCO.” He goes on to tell them that the FCO Crisis Centre will be coordinating the effort – which tells you all need to know about the FCO’s attitude towards Brexit. Peter Jones, the FCO’s Chief Operating Officer, is coordinating the change in priorities with directors. As if it should not have been the priority since June 2016…

McDonald concludes “Preparing for October is the professional challenge of our lives” before going on to finish his missive “I hope, like me, you manage to take some leave over the summer in preparation for a busy autumn.” No sense of urgency even though a no deal Brexit has belatedly “become the FCO’s main effort”…

Foreign Office Spending £500,000 on Trade Policy Training

While Civil Servants have been dragging their feet when it comes to Brexit, the Foreign Office has notoriously been the worst when it comes to accepting the result of the referendum. However, it appears that with Boris Johnson now in Downing Street and Dominic Raab in charge the penny has finally dropped at the FCO that Britain is leaving the EU on October 31. The foreign office’s mandarins realise that after 46 years they will once again be able to unilaterally decide Britain’s trade policy. In preparation the department is procuring £500,000 of training in ‘Advanced Trade Policy’. Better late than never…

The winner of the contract will need to “Design and deliver a bespoke, class-room based, Advanced Trade Policy (ATP) training programme” in order to “to ensure civil servants improve their trade policy expertise” and will endure for two years following its award. Unsurprisingly, the FCO has confirmed the contract is not being financed by EU funds…

UPDATE: FCO press office insist this is part of a continuing programme of training pointing to this tender which closed in January.

Foreign Office Steps Up No Deal Planning

Foreign and Commonwealth Office staff have been sent a memorandum by the Head of the Diplomatic Service Sir Simon McDonald. It reveals that staff will be moved from current roles to work on No Deal from the middle of February. Talented and experienced individuals are being poached to be deployed in EU impact areas. Non EU-Exit work is being ‘delayed, dropped or done differently’…

A co-conspirator has told Guido that Remainer FCO staff are “very down, across the grades” and that morale is low. Apparently the threats to be moved to Brexit duties not going down well with staff…

Stepping up our No Deal planning
Yesterday the FCC’s Executive Committee (ExCo) agreed to intensify our contingency planning to manage a No Deal scenario. This includes working with Directorates to release staff from the ‘20%’ Directorate Crisis Lists for a potential No Deal response from mid-February (the 18th is pencilled in), as well as identifying experienced individuals to be deployed to EU Exit impacted areas outside of the Crisis Centre and to new short-term roles in the Europe network. The latter could require up to 5% of staff.

This will have a significant impact on Directorates so we will need to be rigorous in our prioritisation of non-EU Exit work. Prioritisation guidance for Directors will follow shortly to help them make decisions about what non-EU Exit work to delay, drop or do differently. We will also need to adapt the way we work, including relying more on Posts, devolving decision-making to more junior levels and streamlining central processes.

As part of this work, colleagues in HR Directorate have been looking carefully at what changes they can make to HR policies and processes More detail on this will follow next week.

It looks like the Foreign Office is finally accepting we are leaving. Not only that, they realise it might be on ‘no deal’ terms…

Flag Flying Again in Brussels

UKIP MEP Jonathan Bullock reports excitedly that “The union flag now flies above the British residency in Brussels” following his campaign to get the flag put back up after it was mysteriously removed. In fact a member of staff in the residency was so pleased the flag was back up that they offered to take the photoTo save their foreign office career Guido will not reveal who it was. You can however discount regular occupant Olly Robbins…

Jonathan hopes: “Now that the flag is restored perhaps we can see a sound Brexit policy restored to deliver what the people voted for over two years ago.” Steady on Jonathan, it has taken weeks just to get them to fly the flag…

British Diplomats Not Flying the Flag in Brussels

Is it an omen that the British residence in Brussels on Rue Ducale hasn’t been flying the flag of late? This is the base of operations for Olly Robbins when he is meeting Michel Barnier.

UKIP MEP Jonathan Bullock, who regularly walks past the building, tells Guido:

‘I was surprised to see the Union flag missing. All the other buildings belonging to other countries on that street proudly fly their country’s flag but not the British Residence. I hope this is not a sign of complete capitulation by Olly Robbins and his negotiating team. It should be put back up immediately.’

Is it too much to ask the for Foreign Office to fly the flag?

BBC Making Foreign Office Documentary

The BBC has commissioned a fly-on-the-wall documentary about the inner workings of the Foreign Office, Guido hears. The Beeb has wanted to produce a behind-the-scenes film revealing the inner workings of the FCO for a number of years, and Guido understands they have finally been given the sign off. A Michael Cockerell-style doco like his Inside the Commons series would be worth a watch; he did an episode on the FCO in his 2010 Great Offices of State series and also made a film about Boris Johnson in 2013. Sure Boris won’t do a Seumas and say anything unguarded with the cameras still rolling…

Boris Brings Christmas Back to FCO

bo-jo-ho-ho

When Phil Hammond was Foreign Secretary, the Foreign Office did not exactly embrace the festive spirit. Indeed, a Christmas tree historically erected in the quad outside the FCO was canned by the scrooges in the last Labour government. Under Boris, Guido is happy to report that the Yuletide festivities have returned. This morning a Christmas tree was unveiled to the delight of merry mandarins, a gift from the Norwegian foreign minister Borge Brende, as children from the Norwegian school in London sang carols. BoJo ho ho!

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