MPs slam Boris Johnson’s ‘impulsive’ decision to merge DfID with the Foreign Office

Government urged to retain the ICAI aid watchdog after overseas aid department's abolition

By Eleanor Langford

17 Jul 2020

MPs have criticised the government’s “costly and disruptive” plans to absorb the Department for International Development back into the Foreign Office.

In a report published on Thursday, members of the International Development Committee warned that any short-term savings from the merger could prove “costly and disruptive” in the future and “impair organisational effectiveness”.

And they say the move could reduce the UK’s standing on the international stage, despite Boris Johnson claiming as he announced the tie-up that it would “strengthen our position in an intensely competitive world”.

Concerns are also raised about a lack of consultation over the changes, with the committee calling on ministers to present the Commons with an evidence-based rationale for the move.

Labour said the IDC’s analysis was “more damning evidence” that Boris Johnson’s decision to combine the departments was “done on a whim”

Setting out the committee’s findings, IDC chair Sarah Champion said: “Our evidence shows DfID has a glowing reputation overseas, its expertise envied and its aid programmes delivering a lifeline for many of the world’s poorest and most vulnerable.

"DfID gives the UK considerable international standing and is something we should all be proud of.

“It is deeply disappointing that the Government failed to recognise these strengths as it made its impulsive move to have the FCO swallow up DfID. Now we are on the brink of this expertise being lost and our international reputation being damaged beyond repair.”

She added: “The fact that there was no consultation, seemingly no evidence as to why this is a good idea, really lets down the communities that UK aid is there to support.

"The Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office now has an enormous remit, and I sincerely hope development is not side-lined.”

Recommendations put forward in the report include establishing a Minister for Development within the Foreign Office, retaining the Independent Commission for Aid Impact watchdog, and replacing the IDC with a new Official Development Assistance select committee.

Merger ‘about politics not aid’

Responding to the report, Oxfam GB chief executive Danny Sriskandarajah said: "The committee is right - the demise of DfID is likely to do real damage to the world’s poorest people and to Britain’s international standing.

"British people expect our aid to be used for the benefit of those without clean water, medicines or food. But the timing and presentation of this merger clearly indicate that it was primarily about politics rather than becoming more effective in helping people to escape poverty.

"At a time when Covid is making millions of people poorer and hungrier, this decision was not just impulsive but also deeply irresponsible."

A government spokesman said: "The new Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office will place our world-class development programmes at the heart of our foreign policy.

"Combining the development expertise of Dfid with the diplomatic reach of the Foreign Office will maximise the impact of our aid budget in helping the very poorest, while making sure we get the very best value for UK taxpayers' money in a world-leading department."

Eleanor Langford is a reporter at Civil Service World's sister title PoliticsHome, where a version of this story was first published.


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