LONDON: Prime Minister Boris Johnson has announced that the government department responsible for overseas aid is to be merged with the Foreign Office (FCO). He told MPs combining the Department for International Development (DfID) and the FCO would “unite our aid with our diplomacy”.
He said the “long overdue reform” would ensure “maximum value” for taxpayers. But Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said the merger would “diminish Britain’s place in the world”, BBC has reported.
Former Conservative PM David Cameron also criticised the move, warning it would mean “less voice for development at the top table and ultimately less respect for the UK overseas”.
It is understood ministers are aiming to set up the new joint department – known as the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office – by September. The move to combine the two, which have a previous history of being merged and split up again, has long been mooted in Conservative circles.
Announcing the plan in the Commons, Mr Johnson said the UK’s aid and foreign policies were “designed to achieve the same goal”. He added it would allow a “single decision maker” to take a “comprehensive overview” about how overseas spending is allocated.
For too long, he said, UK aid spending had “been treated as some giant cashpoint in the sky that arrives without any reference to UK interests”. The prime minister reaffirmed the UK’s commitment to spend 0.7% of its economic output on overseas aid.
In response, Sir Keir said there was “no rationale” for the merger, which he said was being made now to “deflect attention” from the government’s handling of the Covid-19 crisis.
He said DfID had proved one of the UK’s “best performing departments,” and abolishing it represented “the tactics of pure distraction”.