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In a Commons statement, the Prime Minister said the Department for International Development was seen round the world as a “great cashpoint in the sky” that handed out money without regard to British interests or values. He announced it would be merged with the Foreign Office to create a new “Whitehall super department” designed to “help improve the way this country projects itself abroad”. Mr Johnson told MPs: “This will unite our aid with our diplomacy and bring them together in our international effort.”
Work on merging the two Whitehall departments into the new Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office will begin immediately and is scheduled to be formally completed by September.
Government sources said the UK’s target of spending 0.7 percent of the country’s Gross Domestic Product on overseas aid will remain in force after the merger.
They also pointed out that Britain’s aid budget, which hit £15.2billion last year, was likely to be significantly cut as a result of fall in GDP resulting from the coronavirus lockdown.
While some Civil Service jobs could be cut as a result of the merger, Downing Street insiders insisted there would be no compulsory redundancies.
Opposition MPs and aid campaigners reacted angrily to the decision.
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said the announcement was “a distraction” from how poorly the Government was handling the coronavirus pandemic.
“We should see this statement for what it is, the tactics of pure distraction,” he said.
“Abolishing Dfid diminishes Britain’s place in the world. There’s no rationale for making this statement today.”
Former Tory prime minister David Cameron, whose coalition government hit the international target of spending 0.7 percent of national income on aid, described the move as a “mistake”.
He said: “The end of DfID will mean less expertise, less voice for development at the top table and ultimately less respect for the UK overseas.”
But Mr Johnson insisted the move would ensure Britain spoke with one diplomatic voice around the world and help get better value for money for UK taxpayers.
“DfID and the FCO are now joining together to become a Whitehall super department for international affairs which will be of huge benefit to our ability to project Britain’s sense mission about overseas aid.
“For too long, frankly, UK overseas aid has been treated as some giant cashpoint in the sky that arrives without any reference to UK interests or to the values that the UK wishes to express,” he told MPs.
Speaking in the Commons, the Prime Minister said the UK had the third biggest aid budget and diplomatic network in the world.
“We owe it to our people to make best use of these assets, which scarcely any of our peers can match.
“The British taxpayer has the right to expect that we achieve the maximum value with every pound we spend,” he said.
Mr Johnson said the world coronavirus pandemic had shown the split between diplomacy and overseas development was “artificial and outdated”.
Mr Johnson said Britain’s aid spending should be more in line with the country’s diplomatic aims.
“We give as much aid to Zambia as we do to Ukraine, though the latter is vital for European security.
“We give ten times as much aid to Tanzania as we do to the six countries of the Western Balkans, who are acutely vulnerable to Russian meddling,” he said.
Mr Johnson said Tony Blair’s Labour government had been well-intentioned and right in setting up DfID in 1997 but the world had changed dramatically since then.
“Those judgments date from a relatively benign era when China’s economy was still smaller than Italy’s and the West was buoyed by victory in the Cold War.
“We must now strengthen our position in an intensely competitive world by making sensible changes.”
Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab will have the power to decide which countries receive or cease to receive UK foreign aid under the shake up, the Prime Minister said.
Dismissing opposition complaints that the shake up should not take place during the pandemic response, he added: “This is exactly the moment when we must mobilise every one of our national assets, including our aid budget and expertise, to safeguard British interests and values overseas – and the best possible instrument for doing that will be a new department charged with using all the tools of British influence to seize the opportunities ahead.”
James Roberts, of the TaxPayers’ Alliance campaign group, said: “This shift is good news for taxpayers, but it’s crucial that the end result is less of their money being wasted.
“Taxpayers must get the maximum possible value for every pound spent. For too long, cash has been thrown away by DfID on ineffective and unjustified projects – money must now go to those most in need, at home and abroad.
“As part of a single foreign affairs department, it should be easier to place the nation’s best interests at the heart of aid decisions, and to save taxpayers’ money.”
Tory MP Tom Tugendhat, chairman of the Commons Foreign Affairs Committee, said: “I am pleased to see that the Foreign Secretary will be given more strategic oversight when it comes to key aspects of overseas influence and spending.”
But Daniel Willis, of aid campaign group Global Justice Now said: “This is a terrible decision that takes us back two decades to when UK aid was subservient to the interests of British business. It’s bad news for the fight against global poverty, and good news for suppliers of corporate drinks parties in foreign embassies.”
- Britain handed £150million to aid projects in China in 2018 despite the Asian giant already being one of the biggest economies in the world.
- Yenga, a pop group hailed as Ethiopia’s answer to the Spice Girls, received £4million in UK aid as part of a wider programme aimed at empowering women in Ethiopia.
- In 2018, the UK pledged nearly £100million in aid to India despite the Indian government spending almost the same sum on a lunar probe while millions of its citizens live in poverty.
- Britain handed £1.5billion in aid to 20 countries internationally recognised as the most corrupt regimes in the world.
- £1.5million of UK aid was spent on eradicating super-sized mice from uninhabited Gough Island in the southern Atlantic Ocean.
- £326 million was spent on operating costs at the Department for International Development in a single year in 2018/19.
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