Abolishing DfID would see UK 'turn its back on poorest', charities warn Johnson

Written by Matt Honeycombe-Foster on 17 December 2019 in News
News

Warning comes amid reports the PM wants the Foreign Office to absorb the aid department

International development secretary Alok Sharma. Photo: WIktor Szymanowicz/NurPhoto/PA

More than 100 charities have urged Boris Johnson not to press ahead with a plan to scrap the Department for International Development.

A coalition of major aid groups warned the prime minister that the expected merger of DfID with the Foreign Office would give the impression the UK is "turning our backs on the world’s poorest people".

Johnson is widely expected to wield the axe on DfID – which was originally spun out of the Foreign Office under Labour in 1997 – as part of a wide-ranging shake-up of Whitehall prompted by his election victory.


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DfID oversees the UK's £14bn annual overseas aid budget, and successive governments have been committed to spending 0.7% of gross national income on development. The latest Conservative manifesto says the party will "proudly maintain" that pledge.

But Johnson has previously argued that the UK's aid budget needs to be spent "more in line with Britain’s political, commercial and diplomatic interests" and last year backed a report calling for the two departments to be merged.

In a joint statement, more than 100 charities including ActionAid, Oxfam, War On Want, World Jewish Relief and Islamic Relief UK said: “Merging DfID with the FCO would risk dismantling the UK’s leadership on international development and humanitarian aid.

"It suggests we are turning our backs on the world’s poorest people, as well as some of the greatest global challenges of our time: extreme poverty, climate change and conflict. UK aid risks becoming a vehicle for UK foreign policy, commercial and political objectives, when it first and foremost should be invested to alleviate poverty."

They added: "By far the best way to ensure that aid continues to deliver for those who need it the most is by retaining DfID as a separate Whitehall department, with a secretary of state for international development, and by pledging to keep both independent aid scrutiny bodies: the Independent Commission for Aid Impact and the International Development Select Committee.”

The intervention follows similar warnings from former Conservative development ministers.

Andrew Mitchell – the first Tory to run the department – said it remained "the most effective and respected engine of development anywhere in the world, and a huge soft power asset for Britain".

He added: "Any machinery of government changes in Whitehall should obviously respect Britain’s international development in the poorest and most unstable parts of the world. 

"Tackling insecurity and building prosperity directly affects our well being in the UK. British leadership in this area is a core part of Global Britain."

That was echoed by former Foreign Office and DfID minister Alistair Burt, who said: "My advice would be not to merge DfID and the FCO. DfID as a standalone department has given the UK an outstanding reputation. It runs very well. 

"It has learned very well over the years the rules about how to handle its aid budget. It is conscious of the risk presented in delivering such a large aid budget. But its thought leadership and the individuals that come from that department has been done well."

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Matt Honeycombe-Foster
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Matt Honeycombe-Foster is news editor of CSW's sister site PoliticsHome, where this story first appeared.

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