Tories dismantle DfID - in a move critics say will see the world's poor suffer in the interests of UK foreign policy
The world’s poorest and most vulnerable have been sacrificed to satisfy right wing Tory ideologues, say campaigners.
Charities in Scotland and across the globe reacted with dismay at Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s announcement that the Department for International Development (DfID) will be merged into the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO).
DfID – which was set up by the 1997 Labour government - had long been a target for the Tory right.
This includes Johnson, who as foreign secretary had said the UK’s £14 billion aid spending must come “more in line with Britain’s political, commercial and diplomatic interests”.
He made that a reality yesterday (Tuesday, 17 June) when he told the House of Commons that for too long UK aid spending had "been treated as some giant cashpoint in the sky that arrives without any reference to UK interests".
A coalition of more than 100 charities had campaigned against the merger, saying it would amount to “turning our backs on the world’s poorest people”.
Charities reacted angrily to Johnson’s decision – which came just after an influential committee of MPs had recommended DfID’s retention as a standalone ministry.
Aid charities are worried the move could see aid spending reduced and priorities changed for the sake of political expediency – with, for example, aid being cut to Africa but increased for the likes of Ukraine, where the UK has strategic interests.
Charities also warned that axing DfID will be a blow in the global fight against Covid-19.
Patrick Watt of Christian Aid called the merger “an act of political vandalism”.
He said: “Stripping the Department for International Development of its independence and folding it into the Foreign and Commonwealth Office threatens a double whammy to people in poverty, and to our standing in the world.”
Meanwhile, Mark Sheard, chief executive of World Vision UK, said the announcement was “shocking evidence of the UK putting its own economic interests above saving lives”, adding: “The terrible irony is that global Britain has today shrunk following years of an anti-aid agenda taking root at the heart of government.”
Daniel Willis, campaign manager for Global Justice Now, savaged the merger as “a terrible decision that takes us back two decades to when UK aid was subservient to the interests of British business”.
He added: “It’s bad news for the fight against global poverty, and good news for suppliers of corporate drinks parties in foreign embassies.”
Romilly Greenhill, the UK director of the advocacy group One, said the merger was the wrong decision and “is a loss for global Britain and the world’s poorest people”.
She added: “This is not the right decision if Britain is to truly be a global player in addressing challenges such as Covid-19. A global pandemic requires a global response – driven by those with real expertise in fighting disease and extreme poverty. Capitals around the world will be dismayed that the UK appears to be stepping back from global leadership at the very moment it is needed most.”
It’s bad news for the fight against global poverty, and good news for suppliers of corporate drinks parties in foreign embassies
The fight for DfID’s retention had been spearheaded in Scotland by the country’s International Development Alliance.
Chief executive Jane Salmonson, Alliance said: “This move is deeply disturbing particularly at this time of grave crises around the world. The global pandemic threatens to push 100 million people into extreme poverty, according to World Bank forecasts, while the climate emergency threatens the lives and livelihoods of those who have done least to cause it. Solidarity with the world’s poorest has never been more needed.
“Now more than ever, our sector must stand up for the work we do. We must keep up the pressure to ensure transparency and accountability in the way our country uses its aid budget, and ensure that we hold our government to account on the strength of its commitment to eradicating poverty and meeting the Sustainable Development Goals.”
Meanwhile, in a statement, the Scottish Malawi Partnership said: “The sector stands as one in criticising this dangerous, regressive move which will significantly weaken the UK’s international development work, at a critical time in the Covid-19 pandemic.”
Oxfam and Unicef UK also raised their voices in protest.
Labour leader Keir Starmer said he would re-establish DfID if elected prime minister, and even former Tory PM David Cameron criticised the move.
Johnson dismissed concerns, calling DfID “outdated” and saying the new joint department would lend "extra throw-weight and kilowattage" to the UK's aims overseas.