This week the Government appointed David Cameron as Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs, replacing James Cleverly, who was appointed Home Secretary.
This marks a dramatic return to frontline politics for Cameron, seven years since he resigned as Prime Minister and stood down from parliament.
The busy in-tray
The new Secretary of State has a very full in-tray. He faces the most difficult set of foreign policy challenges for more than two decades, with devastating conflicts raging in eastern Europe and the Middle East. He will be responsible for a department that is still finding its feet after a controversial and poorly managed merger of the Department for International Development and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.
He will also be facing up to the fact that the UK’s standing on global development has declined significantly since he left politics. The 0.7% aid target he helped introduce has been dropped, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) that he helped to secure globally have plummeted down the government’s agenda, issues like climate change, that he helped to bring greater attention to, have become more pressing, and the UK has stepped back from playing a leading role at international development summits.
Given his previous leadership on development issues, Bond and its members are hopeful that David Cameron’s appointment will mark a resurgence in the government’s ambitions on development and build on the recent progress achieved by Andrew Mitchell, Minister of State for Development and Africa, since his appointment just over a year ago.
What we want to see from the new Secretary of State
What do Bond and its members encourage the new Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs to prioritise in his new role? The following four areas are certainly the most pressing:
Securing a ceasefire and providing urgent humanitarian assistance in Gaza
Ending the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas in Gaza must be David Cameron’s top priority. The civilian death toll from the conflict is devasting and rising rapidly, and there is a risk that a wider regional conflict will break out.
The government must urgently call for and work towards and end of the fighting, so that civilians can be protected and the massive task of delivering urgently required humanitarian assistance can be provided. Humanitarian pauses will not be sufficient to ensure that significant further loss of life and suffering is prevented. The UK Government must take a global leadership position on ending this conflict.
Leadership on climate change at COP-28
The next UN summit on tackling climate change (COP-28), taking place in the United Arab Emirates, starts at the end of the month. Bond members have been concerned that, in recent months, the UK government has stepped back from policies that are vital to ambitious reductions of greenhouse gas emissions in the UK, and has introduced a new approach to reporting progress towards meeting its climate finance commitments (£11.6 billion during 2021/22 to 2025/26) that allows it to inflate these figures.
Ahead of the Summit we urge David Cameron to work with the Prime Minister to secure new UK commitments to tackling climate change, and to commit to the UK’s climate finance commitments being delivered in full.
Provide additional aid to respond to global crises
In 2022 a third of the UK aid budget, that had already been cut by billions in 2021, was spent supporting refugees settling in the UK, which has led to even for cuts in other areas. The effects of these cuts have been devastating, with urgent humanitarian programmes slashed, aid to Africa more than halved over this period and millions losing access to life-saving care.
Following pressure from NGOs and parliamentarians, the Treasury agreed to allocate an additional £2.5 billion above the 0.5% aid budget for 2022/23 and 2023/24 to reflect these pressures. However, refugee spending is expected to remain high this year, and no additional support for vital aid needs has been announced.
With the UK’s aid budget under more demand than ever, we urge David Cameron to work with the Treasury ahead of the Autumn Statement on 22 November to secure additional aid for 2024/25 to ensure the UK can meet its global responsibilities.
Champion the SDGs across Government
An important priority for the coming months is ensuring that the FCDO works with the rest of the UK government to champion the SDGs and mobilise UK global leadership on these goals. The UN’s recent analysis published this summer found that all the 15 SDGs are not on track to be achieved by 2030, with most of them significantly off-track.
The UK’s leadership on the SDGs is vital if these targets are to be met. David Cameron needs to work with all government departments to identify more ambitious commitments on the SDGs and put the SDGs back at the core of the FCDOs work. The NGO sector is eager to work with David Cameron to take this agenda forward, led by Bond’s SDG Working Group.