DfID ‘to be spared’ as Johnson scales back Whitehall reorganisation

Written by Matt Honeycombe-Foster and Richard Johnstone on 7 January 2020 in News

Plans for a standalone borders and immigration department also put on back burner, according to reports.

Photo: Simon Davis

Boris Johnson has ditched his plans to close the Department for International Development – along with those for a standalone borders and immigration department, it has been reported.

Proposals for a wide-ranging government shakeup are being prepared in No.10 Downing Street to reform how Whitehall works. The closure of the Department for Exiting the European Union have already been announced and other changes, including re-establishing a climate change department and merging the Department for International Trade with the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, have also been mooted.

However, it has been reported today that moves to merge DfID back into the Foreign Office and to spin the UK borders and immigration function out of the Home Office have been scrapped.


According to the Daily Mail, a "pared down" machinery of government reorganisation is expected in February, with Johnson instead focusing on improving performance in the existing ministries.

The speculation comes in the wake of a blog post from Johnson's senior adviser Dominic Cummings seeking to recruit “weirdos and misfits”, policy experts and “unusual” mathematicians and computer scientists to work in Downing Street. The unorthodox job advert forms part of a likely review of civil service recruitment, with Cummings, a long-standing critic of the civil service, also expected to review hiring and firing processes.

A coalition of more than 100 charities wrote to Johnson to urge him not to scrap DfID, warning that closing the department would give the impression the UK is "turning our backs on the world’s poorest people".

The proposals also prompted warnings from former Conservative development ministers, with Andrew Mitchell saying it remained "the most effective and respected engine of development anywhere in the world, and a huge soft power asset for Britain".

DfID currently oversees the UK's £14bn annual foreign aid budget and the latest Conservative manifesto says the party will "proudly maintain" a longstanding pledge to spend 0.7% of gross national income on development.

But Johnson has previously said overseas aid spending should be "more in line with Britain’s political, commercial and diplomatic interests" through returning it to the Foreign Office, from which DfID was spun out in 1997 by the then-Labour government.

Responding to the reports that the Home Office would retain control of immigration, Institute for Government Brexit programme director Joe Owen said on Twitter that while the think tank has argued there was a strong case for moving responsibility from the Home Office, “on balance it's probably the right call not to do it this year – when the border and immigration system face the biggest delivery challenge in decades”.

He added: “That doesn't mean the Home Office doesn't need urgent attention though. As it stands the department isn't ready to handle the post Brexit immigration challenge.”

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Matt Honeycombe-Foster and Richard Johnstone
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Matt Honeycombe-Foster is the news editor of CSW’s sister site PoliticsHome, where a version of this story first appeared. He tweets @matt_hfoster

Richard Johnstone is CSW's deputy and online editor and tweets as @CSW_DepEd

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