Tying aid to foreign policy: New UK dept begins work
Declassified documents show that past British governments have been uneasy about admitting UK aid’s links with foreign policy objectives, but the Boris Johnson government has now institutionalised the link in a new department.
The Foreign and Commonwealth Office has been merged with the Department for International Development (budget: £15 billion), inaugurated by foreign secretary Dominic Raab this week under the new name: Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office.
The merger as part of Johnson’s post-Brexit idea of ‘Global Britain’ has attracted criticism, including from Labour, former prime minister David Cameron and former international development secretary Andrew Mitchell, who said abolishing the department was an “extraordinary mistake”.
Raab marked the new department’s launch by announcing a £119 million aid package to tackle the threat of coronavirus and famines in countries such as Yemen, Democratic Republic of Congo, Somalia, Central African Republic, the Sahel, South Sudan and Sudan.
The UK by law is committed to spend 0.7 per cent of its national income on aid. The amount has dwindled after the coronavirus pandemic severely impacted the economy, raising concerns among campaign groups and other stake-holders.
According to Tim Durrant of think-tank Institute for Government, there is still a long way to go before it is known how the new department will manage both aid and diplomacy. While previously the two departments worked closely, they are very different organisations, he said.
“Many in the development sector have expressed concern that the new department will not value development expertise as much as DfID did, and that this will lead to an exodus of talent. To stop that happening, ministers and senior officials will have to show that the expertise and experience of officials from both the predecessor departments is valued in the FCDO,” Durrant wrote.
The top civil servant in the new department is Philip Barton, who was briefly the British high commissioner in India until recently. He said: “I look forward to bringing together our diplomats and development experts to deliver for the people of the UK and act as a force for good around the world”.