The Department for International Development and the Department for Exiting the European could both be abolished if the Conservative Party is successful in Thursday’s general election, reports have said.
Civil servants in the Foreign Office and DfID are reportedly working up plans for a merger, while the Brexit department stands to be absorbed into the Department for International Trade in a major reshuffle after the UK has left the EU.
The prime minister is planning to fold DfID into the Foreign Office in early 2020 if he stays in power after the election, departmental sources told the Financial Times.
The move would give the Foreign Office responsibility for distributing UK aid. Boris Johnson has on several occasions said he wants the £13.4bn Official Development Assistance budget to be spent more effectively, and said earlier this year that the FCO should reabsorb DfID, which was spun out as a separate department in 1997.
The former foreign secretary told the FT in January that Britain “can’t keep spending huge sums of British taxpayers’ money as though we were some independent Scandinavian NGO”.
The Conservative Party has refused to confirm the rumours, but an anonymous civil servant told the newspaper that there is “thinking going on” in Whitehall about a potential merger.
Another said DfID staffers could resign if the move led to the aid budget – which is set at 0.7% of GDP – being cut.
It was also reported this week that the prime minster plans to merge DExEU and DIT to form a “super-department”, headed by Michael Gove.
Gove, now chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and a Cabinet Office minister, has had a high-profile role in Johnson’s administration leading no-deal Brexit preparations. He is being tipped for a promotion if the Conservatives win a majority, having played a key role in the party’s election campaign, according to The Times.
A number of other cabinet positions would change hands in a Conservative government. Johnson would need to appoint a new culture secretary to replace Nicky Morgan, who will stand down at the election, and other posts may open up if ministers standing lose marginal seats.
Johnson has refused to guarantee that senior cabinet ministers would stay in post after the election, and has only confirmed that Sajid Javid, the chancellor, would definitely stay on.
The Brexit department's long-term future is uncertain whatver the outcome of Thursday's election. Johnson's predecessor Theresa May set up DExEU in July 2017 to work on negotiations with the EU and officials have described it as a "time-limited department", and civil service chief executive John Manzoni has said there is “no discussion that DExEU is going to be permanent", although the exact timing of its closure is not decided.
There have been frequent moves between the Cabinet Office and DExEU. The latter was originally spun out of the Cabinet Office’s Europe Unit, which had been led Olly Robbins, who became DExEU's first perm sec. Robbins was then moved back to the Cabinet Office to focus on the EU exit negotiations, and around 50 staff moved from DExEU to the Cabinet Office.
Then in September, cabinet secretary Sir Mark Sedwill announced that officials in the Cabinet Office and Department for Exiting the European Union are working as one team under a revised government structure to support prime minister Boris Johnson's Brexit negotiations.