Simon McDonald

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Person.png Simon McDonald  Rdf-entity.pngRdf-icon.png
Simon McDonald.jpg
Born9 March 1961
Salford, England
Alma materPembroke College (Cambridge)
SpouseOlivia Wright
Member ofFranco-British Colloque
UK Permanent Under-Secretary at the Foreign Office and Head of the Diplomatic Service 2015-2020.

Employment.png UK/Ambassador/Israel Wikipedia-icon.png

In office
2003 - 2006
Preceded bySherard Cowper-Coles
Succeeded byTom Phillips

Employment.png Permanent Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs Wikipedia-icon.png

In office
September 2015 - September 2020
Preceded bySimon Fraser

Employment.png Head of the Diplomatic Service

In office
September 2015 - September 2020

Employment.png Master

In office
1 September 2022 - Present
EmployerChrist's College (Cambridge)

Simon Gerard McDonald, Baron McDonald of Salford is a British former diplomat who was the Permanent Under-Secretary at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and Head of the Diplomatic Service until September 2020. He was the last professional head of the Foreign & Commonwealth Office before the creation of the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office. On 23 November 2021, McDonald was elected Master-Elect of Christ's College, Cambridge, with a term of office beginning 1 September 2022.[1]


McDonald was educated at De La Salle College, Salford, and read History at Pembroke College, Cambridge. He joined the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) in 1982 and served in Jeddah, Riyadh, Bonn and Washington, D.C. as well as in London. He was Principal Private Secretary to the Foreign Secretary 2001–03; Ambassador to Israel 2003–06; Director for Iraq at the FCO 2006–07; Foreign Policy Adviser to the Prime Minister and Head of the Overseas and Defence Secretariat at the Cabinet Office 2007–10; and was appointed Ambassador to Germany in October 2010.[2][3]

In September 2015, McDonald became Permanent Under-Secretary in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and Head of the Diplomatic Service, replacing Sir Simon Fraser.[4][5][6] As of 2015, McDonald was paid a salary of between £180,000 and £184,999 by the Foreign Office, making him one of the 328 most highly paid people in the British public sector at that time.[7]

In April 2020, McDonald stated to the Foreign Affairs Select Committee that it was a political decision to opt out of an EU scheme to bulk-buy ventilators and protective equipment for NHS workers to respond to the coronavirus pandemic. The comments raised concerns that ministers had put Brexit ahead of responding to the public health crisis.[8] Following comments, Matt Hancock used Downing Street's daily press briefing to state that as far as he knew, they had been no political decision not to participate.[9] McDonald subsequently wrote to the committee chairperson, Tom Tugendhat, stating that he had "inadvertently and wrongly" misadvised the committee "due to a misunderstanding".[9]

In June 2020, it was announced that McDonald would take early retirement in autumn 2020. The move stemmed from the merger of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office with the Department for International Development, with Prime Minister Boris Johnson signalling that he wanted a new leader to head up the combined department.[10]

McDonald was nominated for a crossbench life peerage in the 2020 Political Honours.[11] On 27 January 2021, he was created Baron McDonald of Salford, of Pendleton in the City of Salford for life. He made his maiden speech on 2 March 2021.