UK aid enters new area as Hague, Duncan step down

William Hague, former U.K. secretary of state for foreign and commonwealth affairs and Alan Duncan, former U.K. minister of state in the Department for International Development. Photo by: Foreign and Commonwealth Office / CC BY

Just a month ago, William Hague was standing alongside Hollywood actress Angelina Jolie in a joint campaign to end sexual violence across the world.

No one seemed to have an inkling that the former would soon be resigning as British foreign secretary.

The head of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office announced on Monday night that he will be moving on as Tory leader in the House of Commons, and is expected to be part of Prime Minister David Cameron's campaign team for his 2015 reelection bid. Defense Secretary Philip Hammond has just been confirmed as the new British foreign secretary.

Hague, though, will remain as U.K. special representative on sexual violence in conflict, for sure a high point in his legacy as foreign secretary. He made this cause his own advocacy and personal mission, pledging money through various agencies for the past two years, although many aid groups are still seeking the translation of such political will into more concrete action.

‘Pioneering work’

Since he took over the FCO in May 2010, Hague’s development portfolio has sometimes been fraught with contention. His comments in helping arm rebels in Syria may have not won approval in parliament, but they certainly remained in the minds of many in the humanitarian community and general public who fear civilians caught in the crossfire may become collateral damage.

Transparency has also been an issue under his leadership. While the FCO’s ranking in the annual Aid Transparency Index has improved last year, Publish What You Fund noted much more needs to be done. Details of many of the its activities are still not publicly available and published in machine-readable format, as prescribed by IATI.

On the night of Hague's departure, though, there was some encouraging news: the U.N. Security Council unanimously agreed to allow U.N. agencies and international partners to deliver humanitarian aid through four border routes without government permission. This is a breakthrough for humanitarian actors, although it remains to be seen how this will be implemented on the ground, given that the al-Assad regime is getting tougher with international organizations operating inside the country.

Hague’s successor is expected to deal with these and other issues, including dealing with Great Britain’s increasingly fragile relationship with the European Union.

U.K.-based aid groups like Sightsavers highlighted how the departing head of the Foreign Office “has taken British foreign policy into new areas” and commended his “pioneering work” on promoting women’s rights and ending sexual violence in conflict.

“[Hague] succeeded in making this a global priority [and] shattering the culture of impunity,” Dominic Haslam, the organization’s director of policy and strategic program support, told Devex.

Duncan also out

One of the now ex foreign minister’s close friends, Alan Duncan, who served as minister of state for international development, also decided to step down.

Duncan until now was, among other things, overseeing the U.K. Department for International Development’s work in the overseas territories, the Middle East and North Africa — except for Syria and Libya — and international finance through several multilateral institutions like the World Bank, but as of posting time it is unclear what his new role will be.

Cameron appointed MP Desmond Swayne as Duncan’s replacement, who now has to make sure he uses clear language regarding development policy. In an internal memo made known to the public in 2012, Duncan pointed out the incorrect use of several terms often heard in development, such as “impact” being used as a verb.

Sightsavers noted how Duncan played a crucial role in reaching the target of spending 0.7 percent of gross national income on foreign aid as well as supervising U.K. aid responses to humanitarian crises around the world.

The group hopes Swayne will continue to push DfID’s still embryonic disability framework, “including the plan to make disaggregated data on age and disability a requirement for funding humanitarian proposals.”

What do you think are William Hague and Alan Duncan's biggest accomplishments? What issues or actions should the next British foreign secretary and development minister focus their efforts on? Please let us know by sending an email to or leaving a comment below.

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About the author

  • Ravelo jennylei

    Jenny Lei Ravelo

    Jenny Lei Ravelo is a Devex Senior Reporter based in Manila. She covers global health, with a particular focus on the World Health Organization, and other development and humanitarian aid trends in Asia Pacific. Prior to Devex, she wrote for ABS-CBN, one of the largest broadcasting networks in the Philippines, and was a copy editor for various international scientific journals. She received her journalism degree from the University of Santo Tomas.