The world’s poorest are ‘likely to pay the greatest price’ following the Prime Minister’s decision to fold the Department for International Development (Dfid) into the Foreign Office, according to MPs.
In a move criticised by a host of his predecessors, Boris Johnson told Parliament last month that a “super-department” would be of “huge benefit” to Britain’s overseas aid mission.
But the Commons international development committee (IDC), in a newly published report, said the ‘impulsive’ merger could reduce the UK’s standing in the world and bemoaned the lack of consultation with the sector before the decision was announced.
The verdict to scrap Dfid as a department in its own right after 23 years comes with the world gripped by the coronavirus pandemic and the UK’s aid budget having to be slashed by more than £2 billion due to the resulting economic downturn.
The UK has legally committed to spending 0.7 per cent of national income (GNI) on aid, meaning that when the economy contracts, the budget also tightens.
MPs on the IDC called the timing behind the creation of the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office ‘perplexing’, adding: ‘Now is not the time for a major government restructure.’
In their recommendations, they have called on Mr Johnson to continue to have a minister responsible for aid attend Cabinet, along with a committee to scrutinise overseas spending.
In the conclusion of its Effectiveness Of UK Aid report, published on Friday 17th July, the MPs said: ‘It is perplexing that the decision to merge Dfid into the FCO was taken in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic.
‘The decision puts the international response to Covid-19 in jeopardy at a time when global co-operation is needed.
‘It is the world’s poorest and most vulnerable who are likely to pay the greatest price.’
Chair Sarah Champion, a Labour MP, said: “Dfid gives the UK considerable international standing and is something we should all be proud of.
“It is deeply disappointing that the Government failed to recognise these strengths as it made its impulsive move to have the FCO swallow up Dfid.
“Now we are on the brink of this expertise being lost and our international reputation being damaged beyond repair.
“The fact that there was no consultation, seemingly no evidence as to why this is a good idea, really lets down the communities that UK aid is there to support.
“The Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office now has an enormous remit, and I sincerely hope development is not side-lined.”
The committee also said the Government should present a statement to Parliament setting out an ‘evidence-led rationale’ for the amalgamation, setting out expected costs and the expected financial benefits involved.
Poverty reduction ‘should continue to form a central part of the Government’s international policy’ with a focus on the ‘very poorest countries’, the report added.
The MPs’ warning comes after ex-prime ministers David Cameron, Tony Blair and Gordon Brown condemned the move, with Mr Blair, whose Labour administration established DfID in 1997, saying he was “utterly dismayed” by Mr Johnson’s decision and Mr Cameron labelling it a “mistake” which would harm the UK’s influence abroad.
The MPs’ report also echoes the concerns of faith agencies, including CAFOD and SCIAF, who, in a joint statement released following the PM’s announcement, described the decision as a “political move”, adding that “the world’s most vulnerable people will pay the highest price.
Picture: File photo dated 12/8/2014 of logistics officer Beverley Sarpong placing UK Aid stickers onto cargo pallets containing British aid items destined for areas suffering humanitarian crisis at DfiD’s UK Disaster Response Operations Centre at Cotswold Airport, Kemble. (Ben Birchall/PA).