UK merger of DfID and Foreign Office branded ‘loss for world’s poorest’

16 Jun 20

Development organisations have criticised the UK government’s decision to merge its Department for International Development with its Foreign Office, especially amid the Covid-19 pandemic.

Prime minister Boris Johnson announced that the new department – the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office – will open in September to be led by the foreign secretary.

He said it would allow aid spending to tie into his foreign policy objectives, and his vision of a ‘global Britain’.

“One cardinal lesson of the pandemic is that distinctions between diplomacy and overseas development are artificial and outdated,” said Johnson.

“For instance, to protect ourselves against another calamity, the UK will need to work alongside our friends to strengthen international bodies like the World Health Organisation, and help vulnerable countries to improve their health systems and achieve greater resilience.

“It makes no sense to ask whether this amounts to aid or foreign policy: they are one and the same endeavour, and they’re designed to achieve the same goals, which are right in themselves and serve our national interest.”

But many working in international development see the move as a step backwards.

“Today is a loss for global Britain and the world’s poorest people,” said UK director of the One Campaign Romilly Greenhill.

“It’s perplexing that the government chose the middle of a global pandemic to merge these two departments.

“DfID is recognised internationally for its expertise in making the world a healthier, safer and more prosperous place. Abolishing it will harm us all. Time and again it’s been shown that the FCO does not have the experience or capacity to do this well.”

Stephanie Draper, chief executive of UK aid organisation network Bond, said the announcement “couldn’t come at a worse time”, amid the pandemic.

“But this isn’t just about Covid-19,” she added. “Keeping an individual DfID is the best way to ensure aid is spent helping those most in need, delivers impact for the British taxpayer and remains untied to our political interests.

“Yet today, without any process or consultation, and against the recommendations of both independent aid scrutiny bodies as well as the UK’s development and humanitarian sector, the government has decided to put our aid budget in the hands of those with little expertise in global health systems, humanitarian response and disease prevention and eradication.”

CIPFA’s international director Khalid Hamid stressed that under the new arrangement, strengthening public financial management must remain a “key outcome” of aid programmes.

“It is essential the unprecedented level of global public investment in Covid-19 support reaches the right people and represents good value for governments and donors,” he said.

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