International trade secretary Liz Truss has refused to rule out that her department will be scrapped, as the Foreign Office prepares to absorb the Department for International Development.
When questioned by MPs about the future of the Department for International Trade yesterday, Truss repeatedly refused to confirm that it would remain a standalone department.
Boris Johnson, the prime minister, sparked rumours that he could be planning to scrap DIT last week when he announced he would merge the Foreign Office and DfID in the autumn.
Announcing the formation of the beefed-up Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Department on 16 June, Johnson said British ambassadors would head up overseas staff in their host country – including DIT trade commissioners. However a Department for International Trade spokesperson told CSW that day that this did not mean a change in the department's role. Johnson has also previously said he wants to create a “unified Whitehall voice” for the UK’s post-Brexit foreign policy.
Appearing before MPs on the International Trade Committee yesterday, Truss repeatedly refused to say that Johnson was not planning to scrap DIT.
Asked by committee chair Angus MacNeil what she made of the “speculation” about DIT’s future, Truss said the department “already has a huge amount of achievements under its belt, negotiating £110bn of transition deals – but it has really stepped up in recent months”.
Truss said the merger of the FCO and DfID was a "long time coming".
But asked whether she had been given any assurances as to her own department’s future, Truss answered: “I’m 100% focused on getting good deals, I’m not focused on the precise structure of Whitehall.”
“What I am clear about is having a trade department that focuses on trade policy, under the leadership of [second permanent secretary] and [chief trade negotiation adviser] Crawford Falconer, has delivered huge amounts already and is due to deliver a lot more in the coming years,” she added.
And pressed further, she added: “The prime minister is very clear that the Department for International Trade remains and has a lot of important work to do.”
However, she would not answer further questions about how long the department would remain in its current form.
The trade secretary said she believed foreign and trade policy should be “prosecuted in concert”, but would not say whether this could lead to structural changes in future.
She said she was working closely with Dominic Raab, the foreign secretary, as the two departments prepare for the Brexit transition period to end in December.
“We have to speak with one voice internationally, which is why I’m working very closely with the foreign secretary, which is why our trade commissioners are working closely with local ambassadors and high commissioners,” she told the MPs.
DIT was one of two departments founded by Johnson’s predecessor, Theresa May, in the wake of the referendum to leave the EU in June 2016. The other, the Department for Exiting the European Union, was scrapped in February.