Boris Johnson scraps DfID, says combining it with Foreign Office will end UK being used as ‘giant cashpoint in the sky’

Boris Johnson scraps DfID, says combining it with Foreign Office will end UK being used as ‘giant cashpoint in the sky’

David Cameron leads former PMs attacking ‘mistake’ of scrapping DfID

  • PM announced creation of Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office 
  • New department will work to ‘maximise British influence’ overseas, he told MPs
  • Labour’s Sir Keir Starmer said it was a ‘distraction’ from UK pandemic handling

Former Conservative prime minister David Cameron lash out to Boris Johnson today, branding his decision to axe the UK’s foreign aid department a ‘mistake’.

In what is believed to be his first policy intervention since quitting in 2016 ex-premier Mr Cameron joined his Labour predecessors to criticise Mr Johnson’s decision to scrap the Department for International Development.

The Prime Minister told MPs in the Commons today it will be merged into the Foreign Office to create the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, in a bid to ‘maximise British influence’ overseas.

He said the move would ‘unite our aid with our diplomacy and bring them together in our international effort’.

‘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 or the priorities, diplomatic, political or commercial, of the Government of the UK,’ he added.

The commitment to spending 0.7 per cent of GDP on aid will remain, he said, but he signalled it will be much more closely aligned to British interests, including bolstering opposition to Russia and China.

After the announcement Mr Cameron tweeted: ‘The Prime Minister is right to maintain the commitment to 0.7 (per cent) – it saves lives, promotes a safer world and builds British influence. But the decision to merge the departments is a mistake.

‘More could and should be done to co-ordinate aid and foreign policy, including through the National Security Council, but the end of Dfid will mean less expertise, less voice for development at the top table and ultimately less respect for the UK overseas.’

The department for International Development (Dfid) will be merged into the Foreign Office to create the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office in a bid to ‘maximise British influence’ overseas, he told MPs.

Tony Blair, who was in power when it was formed, said it was ‘wrong and regressive’.

‘I am utterly dismayed by the decision to abolish DfID,’ he said.

‘We created DfID in 1997 to play a strong, important role in projecting British soft power. It has done so to general global acclaim.

‘The strategic aims of alignment with diplomacy and focus on new areas of strategic interest to Britain could be accomplished without its abolition.’

Gordon Brown, chancellor at the time of DfID’s founding and a later prime minister, tweeted to say he was saddened to see Mr Johnson ‘abolishing one of the UK’s great international assets’.

But former foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt, ex-international development secretaries Andrea Leadsom and Stephen Crabb, along with Commons foreign committee chairman Tom Tugendhat, all welcomed the DfID reforms.

Mr Hunt called it the ‘right thing to do’ and said Britain needs to ‘speak with one voice’ on issues of diplomacy and development.\

In his statement in the Commons this afternoon Mr Johnson said that Dfid, created by Labour in 1997, was a relic of a past age when China‘s economy was smaller than that of Italy and coronavirus had not ravaged the world.

The move, due to be completed by September, is a victory for Tory hardliners who argue that foreign spending needs to be focused more on UK national priorities and better targeted.

It puts considerably more power into the hands of Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab.

Mr Johnson told MPs that the ‘well-intentioned decisions of 23 years ago were right for their time’ and ‘paved the way for Britain to meet the UN target of 0.7 per cent of national income on aid’.

‘Now, amid this pandemic this House may ask whether this is the right moment to reorganise Whitehall, but I must say that in reality this crisis has already imposed fundamental changes on the way that we operate.

‘If there is one further lesson it is that a whole-of-Government approach getting maximum value for the British taxpayer is just as important abroad as it is at home.

‘So, this is exactly the moment when we most mobilise every one of our national assets including our aid budget and expertise to safeguard British interests and values overseas.

‘The best possible instrument for doing that will be a new department charged with using all tools of British influence to seize the opportunities ahead.’

In a sign money used to help alleviate poverty in Africa could be siphoned elsewhere he added that ‘we give as much aid to Zambia as we do to Ukraine, though the latter is vital for European security (and) 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.’

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said the announcement was ‘a distraction’ from how poorly the Government is handling the pandemic.

Sir Keir said: ‘We should see this statement for what it is, the tactics of pure distraction.’

He added: ‘A few hours ago the ONS figures showed a fall of 600,000 people on the payroll. The economy contracted by 20 per cent in April and we could be on a verge of the return to mass unemployment, something we’ve not seen for a generation.

‘We’ve also one of the highest death rolls from Covid-19 in the world, at least 41,700 deaths and likely to be far greater than that.

‘And in the last hour the Government has u-turned on free school meals.’

He added: ‘I passionately believe in Britain, I am proud of this country, I want to see it playing a leading global role again, a role we frankly haven’t played in the last decade.

‘I want to see Britain as a moral force for good in the world, a force for global justice and co-operation, leading the world on global security, leading the global search for a vaccine, leading the fight against poverty, climate change and gender inequality.

‘We don’t achieve that by abolishing one of the best performing and important departments.’

Aid charities expressed their dissatisfaction at the merger in droves.

Oxfam Great Britain chief executive Danny Sriskandarajah said the Prime Minister’s announcement was “scarcely believable”.

He said: “This decision puts politics above the needs of the poorest people and will mean more people around the world will die unnecessarily from hunger and disease.”

Kevin Watkins, chief executive of Save the Children, described it as “flawed”.

“During the biggest humanitarian crisis in a century, when the Covid-19 pandemic is reversing hard-won gains in child and maternal health, education, and poverty, this is a baffling and deeply damaging move,” he said.

Other organisations in the sector, including World Vision UK, The One Campaign and Global Justice Now, echoed the condemnation of the Whitehall change, while former Tory international development secretaries Rory Stewart and Andrew Mitchell have also spoken out about the decision.

Dan Dolan, deputy director of human rights’ charity Reprieve, said: ‘This merger will make it easier to siphon off aid spending to prop up foreign security partners, as maintaining these alliances will be prioritised over DfID’s mandate to end extreme poverty.

‘We’ve already seen FCO officials approve overseas spending to foreign security bodies like torture prisons in Bahrain and death penalty trials in Pakistan and Sierra Leone.

‘In light of this announcement we urgently need stronger safeguards to prevent more UK aid from financing executions and torture.’

Rory Stewart, both a former international development secretary and foreign office minister, said he would have been ‘strongly’ arguing against the shake-up if he was still in office.

Tory MP Bob Seely (left) welcomed the ‘brave and ambitious approach’. But former Labour aid secretary Douglas Alexander (left)tweeted it would be a ‘an act of national self-harm’

Rory Stewart, both a former international development secretary and foreign office minister, said he would have been ‘strongly’ arguing against the shake-up if he was still in office.

He added: ‘I don’t think it is the smart option.

‘There are many other things we need to be concentrating on at the moment.

‘It will lead to a lot of disruption, a lot of uncertainty at a time when the Foreign Office has an enormous amount to be focused on.’

Douglas Alexander, a former Labour MP who was in charge of Dfid while Gordon Brown was in Downing Street between 2007-10, tweeted: ‘Abolishing Dfid would be an act of national self-harm that would hurt both the UK’s global standing and our efforts to assist the world’s poorest people amidst a global pandemic.’

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