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UK aid tents providing shelter for people who've lost their homes to Cyclone Idai in Mozambique

Credit: WFP/Rein Skullerud - Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)

Widespread criticism of the government’s plan to merge DFID with FCO

18 June 2020

UK prime minister Boris Johnson announced on Tuesday that the Department for International Development (DFID) will be merged with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO). 

Although a merger had been hinted at before by the government, the announcement came as a surprise to the development and humanitarian community. 

The decision was met with derision, dismay and anger across the sector and political spectrum. Although the move has its supporters many politicians from all parties saw the move as regressive. 

Here is our round up of the most prominent reactions and five observations following the announcement of the merger. 

Former prime ministers call out decision 

In a rare critical intervention, former prime minister and Conservative Party leader David Cameron called the move “a mistake”.  Former prime ministers Tony Blair and Gordon Brown also voiced their opposition. 

No cross-party consensus

The leaders of Labour, Liberal Democrats, Scottish National Party and Greens denounced the decision, with Labour leader Kier Starmer arguing that DFID's record spoke for itself.

 

Several prominent MPs and politicians also voiced their opposition to the merger, including Conservative MP and former international development secretary Andrew Mitchell.  

 

 

Other politicians voicing their opposition include shadow secretary of state for development Preet Gill, chair of the international development select committee Sarah Champion and mayor of London Sadiq Khan. The decision was also criticised by two former Conservative ministers, Alistair Burt and the former secretary of state and Conservative leadership contender, Rory Stewart.  

 

 

A lack of consultation for such a big decision

Prime minister Johnson told parliament that there had been a "massive consultation over a long period of time” before the decision was made. But this apparently didn’t include any NGOs working within the international development and humanitarian sector and Dominic Raab revealed that the merger was not discussed by the Cabinet. 

 

The future of DFID was due to be examined during the integrated foreign policy review, which is still scheduled to begin in October. The UNA-UK pointed this out in their statement. 

 

Aid and diplomacy aren’t the same thing

Johnson vowed to keep spending 0.7% of GDP on UK aid and said the focus would remain on poverty reduction, but he used contradictory language in his speech, as Oxfam GB CEO, Danny Sriskandarajah, points out.

 

Many more individuals and organisations were quick to point out that the idea that aid and diplomacy would work hand in glove to help dictate foreign policy wasn’t possible.

 

The timing couldn’t be worse

It was widely understood that any decision on foreign policy and the machinery of government wouldn’t be made until the government had consulted experts through the planned integrated review. So the decision was a surprise even to DFID’s staff. 

The decision to pull the trigger on the merger while Covid-19 is still actively ravaging communities all over the world was questioned by a number of people and organisations. DFID has experience responding to Ebola, is a major player in tackling preventable diseases and is at the forefront of disease research. Closing it down during a pandemic was met with dismay. 

The poor and most vulnerable will lose out

Finally, and most importantly, all this will most likely affect the people who are most in need of help. DFID projects around the world have bought clean water, inoculations, poverty reduction, agriculture guidance and climate preparedness to millions around the world. Diverting funds away from these projects is a disaster for these communities.

We can still save DFID

This merger is not a done deal. We will be working with members and partners to try and make the government see sense on this concerning decision. We encourage everyone to keep using the hashtag #SaveDFID and to write to your MPs to demand a reversal of this damaging merger.