Matthew Rycroft, who is stepping down as permanent secretary at the U.K. Department for International Development. Photo by: Rick Bajornas / U.N.

LONDON — The most senior civil servant at the U.K.’s Department for International Development has left the role to join the Home Office.

“The critical issue is to have a permanent secretary who resists any pressure and does not allow DFID to become subservient to the FCO.”

— Simon Maxwell, former chair, European Think Tanks Group

Matthew Rycroft joined DFID as permanent secretary in early 2018. On Tuesday, it was announced that the department’s Director General for Economic Development and International Nick Dyer would take over as acting permanent secretary.

The government said its plans to recruit a permanent successor would be announced “in due course.”

Rycroft’s tenure at DFID came at a difficult time for the department, which has received continued threats of a merger with the Foreign & Commonwealth Office. His departure comes as speculation mounts that it could happen later this year.

The announcement was met with a mixed response from development professionals. A source within DFID was scathing of Rycroft’s performance.

Speaking anonymously to protect his job, he said Rycroft “never really listened to anyone lower down the command chain and was not credible in his claims to be defending us from the FCO takeover.”

But a former DFID official praised Rycroft's performance as an “arch diplomat, one of the civil service's best.”

He said the move was worrying given the threats to DFID’s future and showed the department was “judged to be expendable.”

Also commenting anonymously to preserve professional ties, he wrote: “The crux will be who replaces him [Rycroft] there: if it's a serving Permanent Secretary transferred from another dept, it might signal limited operational independence of a sort; if it's a FCO or Department for International Trade (DIT) official promoted to be Permanent Secretary for the first time, that I think will signal something different, that the new direction DFID's heading is being bolstered up. My bet is it will be the latter.”

Civil society figures congratulated Rycroft for his work. Simon Maxwell, former chair of the European Think Tanks Group, said Rycroft was an “experienced diplomat who threw himself with enthusiasm into the world of international development and provided leadership at a time when DFID needed to defend its patch.”

He added: “The critical issue is to have a permanent secretary who resists any pressure and does not allow DFID to become subservient to the FCO.”

Stephanie Draper, CEO at Bond, the U.K. network of NGOs, said Rycroft was “a valuable champion of ... U.K. aid and has worked in partnership with civil society. We are grateful for everything he has done to ensure that aid remains focused on helping the world’s poorest and most vulnerable people.”

In a statement, Rycroft said he was “sorry to say goodbye to my DFID colleagues and wish them well for the future.”

He joins the Home Office following the controversial resignation of Sir Philip Rutnam, who resigned in February after accusing Home Secretary Priti Patel of bullying.

About the author

  • William Worley

    William Worley is the U.K. Correspondent for Devex, covering DFID and British aid. Previously, he reported on international affairs, policy, and development. He also worked as a reporter for the U.K. national press, including the Times, Guardian, Independent, and i Paper. His reportage has included work on the Rohingya refugee crisis in Bangladesh, drought in Madagascar, the "migrant caravan" in Mexico, and Colombia’s peace process. He can be reached at william.worley@devex.com.