Tories told: hands off aid department

Crop dfid getty

Rumours are rife that the prime minister will merge DiFD into the Foreign and Commonwealth Office after Brexit 

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21st January 2020 by Graham Martin 0 Comments

Boris Johnson and his Tory government have been warned to think again about any plans to abolish the Department for International Development (DfID).

Rumours are rife that the prime minister will merge DiFD into the Foreign and Commonwealth Office after Brexit in a bid to ref-focus the UK’s international aid budget.

Johnson, who supported the merger when he was foreign secretary as said the UK’s £14 billion aid spending must come “more in line with Britain’s political, commercial and diplomatic interests”.

Charities and campaign groups worry what this will mean in practice for the world’s poorest people – raising the spectre of the UK turning its back on them.

They warn that this could be the reality if aid spending is aligned to political expediency, and potentially cut, through a merger.

Aid organisations have also warned that DfID’s work could be compromised through a merger with the FCO, which would diminish its “expertise and experience”.

The department was separated from the FCO and given an independent remit in 1997 by the Labour government – but it has been a target of some Tory ideologues.

Not least Johnson, who told the Financial Times that DFID should be brought into the FCO, saying: “We can’t keep spending huge sums of British taxpayers’ money as though we were some independent Scandinavian NGO.” 

The Guardian and other newspapers have reported that DfID insiders “fully expect” the merger to happen this year – the same year that the UK plays host to the UN climate summit in Glasgow in November and while the country is pursuing the realisation of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Charities have warned the Johnson government to back off and have mounted a campaign to save DfID.

Jane Salmonson of Scotland’s International Development Alliance said: “DfID, and by extension the UK, has built a strong reputation worldwide for both the quantity (through its commitment to providing 0.7% of Gross National Income) and also the quality of its aid and development. 

“If DfID were to lose the distinct expertise and experience it has developed since the agency was created in 1997, this would diminish its achievements. 

“As we enter the final decade before the SDGs should be met in 2030, not only does the UK government risk downscaling its own commitment to these universal efforts, it also places at risk the power of its example to others. 

“It is widely accepted among the community of donor nations that the UK has been an exemplar. It would be tragic, in these particularly crucial times for our world, if we should choose to step back from leadership by example in our efforts to create a safer, more sustainable and fairer world by 2030.”

Writing in The Guardian, Simon Bishop, deputy chief executive of Plan International UK, said the merger would be costly and short-sighted.

He wrote: “a cast-iron commitment to the poorest indirectly creates significant soft power for Britain. Disrupt this commitment by merging the DfID into the Foreign Office and diverting more aid to UK national interest, and you produce a lose-lose: the world’s poorest (wrongly) suffer, and significant British soft power immediately drains away, at precisely the time when the country is trying to redefine its role in the world.”

Before Christmas a coalition of aid groups including the British Red Cross, Cafod and Oxfam GB warned Johnson that abolishing DfID would suggest Britain is “turning our backs on the world’s poorest people”.

It is believed that any decision on DfID will be taken ahead of a UK government spending review later in the year.