LONDON — Joint Minister for International Development and the Foreign & Commonwealth Office Rory Stewart will move from his post to take up a position at the United Kingdom’s Ministry of Justice, the prime minister’s office announced Tuesday, as part of a wider Cabinet reshuffle.
The decision has surprised many in the U.K’s international development community, coming just two months after Stewart was tipped as a possible candidate for the role of secretary of state for international development.
Some observers also noted that, unusually, neither Stewart nor the Department for International Development have offered an official comment on the announcement, although the Ministry of Justice welcomed him to the post.
Stewart will be replaced at DFID and the FCO by Harriett Baldwin, previously parliamentary under-secretary of state at the Ministry of Defence.
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Stewart, a strong advocate for U.K. aid and the founder of a development charity in Afghanistan, was largely seen as a vocal, foreign policy-savvy internal ally to development organizations and practitioners. A former diplomat and army veteran, he is also known for his stalwart support of stronger coordination between aid and defense operations in conflict zones, one of the geographies under his remit at DFID, although he had raised eyebrows recently with controversial comments about British citizens who leave to fight with Islamic State.
Development and political pundits expressed surprise in reaction to the news on social media, some appearing exasperated at the seemingly sideways step away from Stewart’s foreign policy and development expertise.
In early November, the departure of former DFID chief Priti Patel had prompted calls from the development community to promote Stewart, as he embarked on a highly-visible tour of east and central Africa.
However, the position quickly went to new Secretary of State Penny Mordaunt, enabling Prime Minister Theresa May to maintain a careful political and gender balance in her Cabinet.
Observers now say the logic behind Stewart’s move — and whether it has been driven by himself, wanting a fresh start; or by the prime minister, wanting to make room for more junior Conservative members of parliament — is unclear.
Amid the speculation, political commentators and development veterans on both sides of the aisle mourned the loss of Stewart as an experienced and passionate voice for U.K. aid. Zac Goldsmith, Conservative MP and former London mayoral candidate, tweeted that it was a “real shame to lose Rory Stewart from DFID/FCO. He is one of the few foreign policy experts in parliament — from any party.”
Who is his replacement?
Stewart’s replacement, Harriett Baldwin, is a former minister for defense procurement.
She has previously advocated for the British government to play a greater role in battling malnutrition worldwide, specifically in Africa, and maintains a close relationship with development organizations working in the sector.
Members of the U.K. aid community welcomed Baldwin’s appointment.
But Simon Maxwell, a former director of the Overseas Development Institute, asked why coverage of her appointment has focused on her role at the Foreign Office, with no official statement about it from DFID.
At the time of publication, DFID had not responded to requests for comment either about Stewart’s departure or about Baldwin’s appointment.
The agency’s continuing shift toward using more aid for security-related expenditure might offer insight into Baldwin’s appointment, given her experience at the Ministry of Defence.
“I’m obviously delighted to be promoted into the new role working as a Minister of State across the Foreign Office and the Department for International Development,” she told local media in her constituency of West Worcestershire.
“I look forward to working on behalf of global Britain, using our soft power to further peace and security at home and abroad.”
Update, Jan. 11: This story was amended to clarify that Simon Maxwell is a former director of the Overseas Development Institute