Prime Minister Boris Johnson has received backlash for his recent decision to merge the Department for International Development (known in Whitehall as DfID) with the Foreign Office. It will be replaced with a new department, the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office. This announcement, made on Tuesday, caused a group of 188 charities, NGOs and think tanks to write a letter to the PM in protest. The letter stated that, in abolishing the department, the UK risks, ‘turning its back on the world’s poorest people‘.
They also warned that it risks the UK being ‘less able to respond to the great challenges of our time, such as global health security and climate change’. The charities, which include ActionAid and Save the Children, say they were not consulted about the plans. As it turns out, they were not the only ones. In fact, the level of secrecy surrounding the merger was so great that very few in the DfID were privy to the plans. Only acting permanent secretary Nick Dyer and the department’s director generals knew before the announcement was made. Dyer was given 48 hours’ notice and the director generals had 24. The Cabinet was also not informed, with Health Secretary Matt Hancock telling Sky News that it was the PM’s decision and that, ‘all these machinery of Government changes are decisions individually made by the PM’.
Three former prime ministers, David Cameron, Gordon Brown and Tony Blair also condemned the merger. David Cameron tweeted that the move would mean ‘less expertise, less voice for development at the top table and ultimately less respect for the UK overseas’.
More could and should be done to co-ordinate aid and foreign policy, including through the National Security Council, but the end of @DFID_UK will mean less expertise, less voice for development at the top table and ultimately less respect for the UK overseas. 2/2
— David Cameron (@David_Cameron) June 16, 2020
Johnson has also been criticised by members of the Opposition and Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon who accused him of putting ‘commercial and political’ ambitions ahead of the needs of the world’s poorest people.
However, Johnson defended his decision, declaring that it was outdated to keep the two departments separate. He then went on to say that the UK must “strengthen its position in an intensely competitive world by making sensible changes.”
38 Degrees have set up a petition calling for the Prime Minister to reverse his decision. So far it has gained 34, 942 signatures. They argue that the department is important because, without it, we won’t be able to respond effectively to the COVID-19 pandemic.