Foreign secretary Dominic Raab has said the new Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office that is established today will lead global action to protect the world’s poorest people from coronavirus and the increasing threat of famine.
Speaking on the day that the Foreign Office subsumed the Department for International Development to create the new super-ministry, Raab said coronavirus and famine threaten millions in some of the world’s poorest countries. The new department would help tackle these by “combining our diplomatic strength with our world-leading aid expertise”, he said.
He said: “Global Britain, as a force for good in the world, is leading by example and bringing the international community together to tackle these deadly threats, because it’s the right thing to do and it protects British interests.”
Raab also announced a £119m aid package to combat coronavirus and famine as the UK takes on the G7 and COP26 presidencies. The aid package will be used to alleviate extreme hunger for over 6 million people in Yemen, Democratic Republic of Congo, Somalia, Central African Republic, the Sahel, South Sudan and Sudan.
Raab also named former two-time DfID acting permanent secretary Nick Dyer as the UK’s first special envoy for famine prevention and humanitarian affairs. Dyer will work with other donors, UN agencies, non-governmental organisations and foundations to help prevent catastrophic famine.
The foreign secretary also said the UK remained committed to spending 0.7% of national income on aid, and the FCDO's formation would ensure the UK's diplomatic influence and development expertise were combined to the best effect on the global stage.
However, it has been reported that chancellor Rishi Sunak is pushing for aid spending to be diverted towards upgrading the UK’s intelligence capabilities amid an overhaul of foreign and defence policy.
Britain currently pledges 0.7% of its GDP to go towards international development projects, accounting for approximately £15.8bn in spending.
Today, The Times reported that Sunak had told the cabinet funding for improved intelligence tech such as cyber weapons and AI-enabled drones should come from the aid budget.
The chancellor is said to view spending on the defence industry a better return on investment as it will likely create jobs.
A source told the paper there could also be an argument for using the aid budget in ways that would bring economic benefits to constituencies that traditionally support the Labour Party. They said: “If we are going to say that 0.1% of the 0.7% can be spent on a wider definition of helping the world, why not use it more visibly and directly help some of those ‘red wall’ seats?”
Responding to the controversial departmental merger, Labour’s shadow international development secretary, Preet Kaur Gill, said: “The British people are rightly proud of the impact UK aid and development has had in supporting the world’s poorest and most vulnerable.
She continued: “However, under this government, the future of the UK's commitment to lead on international development is uncertain.
“With the launch of the Foreign Commonwealth and Development Office today, the government must show that it is committed to the principles DfID was founded on to consolidate the hard-won soft power and reputation built up since its inception.
"Now is the time to step up and show genuine global leadership to make the world safer, fairer and better.”