Labour has vowed to “oppose retreat from the global stage” as the Prime Minister announced that the government would be scrapping the Department for International Development.
Boris Johnson has confirmed that DfID – which he has called a “giant cashpoint in the sky” – will be merged with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to create a new department this year.
It is understood that Dominic Raab, the Foreign Secretary, will lead the new department, and there are no plans for a second Secretary of State or a Deputy Foreign Secretary.
Anne-Marie Trevelyan will remain International Development Secretary until early September, when the new department will be formally established. Work is starting immediately on the merger, according to 10 Downing Street.
“The Foreign Secretary will be empowered to decide which countries receive – or cease to receive – British aid,” Johnson said. He claimed the move would “bring together our international effort”.
Reacting to the news, Labour’s Shadow International Development Secretary Preet Kaur Gill described DfID as “the most effective, respected development institution in the world”.
Gill said: “Getting rid of an independent DfID in the middle of a global pandemic is irresponsible, counter-productive and wrong. DfID is a world leader in providing life-changing and life-saving support to millions of people around the world.”
She added: “This takeover of the Department for International Development by the Foreign Office is a mistake by a Prime Minister who wants to deflect attention away from his failings in the handling of the coronavirus pandemic.”
The shadow cabinet member had earlier tweeted: “We will oppose this retreat from the global stage and our moral obligations #MoreInCommon”. Today is the fourth anniversary of the murder of Labour MP Jo Cox.
Cox was head of policy at Oxfam and visited Darfur and Afghanistan. DfID has worked closely with the Jo Cox Foundation to develop grants in her name since 2017.
Also reacting to the news, Sarah Champion said: “I am incredulous that you are going down this path. With a single stroke, you are getting rid of our soft power and our international standing.”
The international development committee chair described it as a “hostile takeover”, raised concerns about the costs of the restructure and said it was being undertaken “at the most inappropriate time”.
Keir Starmer said scrapping the department, created by Tony Blair’s government in 1997, was being used as a “distraction” from the poor handling of the coronavirus crisis by the government.
Shadow Foreign Secretary Lisa Nandy tweeted: “Extraordinary that in the middle of a global crisis, the UK is retreating from the world… Once again we are diminished in the world”.
Chris Bryant said: “At a moment of international crisis, the biggest idea the prime minister has is that he should change the letter head from the Foreign Office. This isn’t a statement on Global Britain, it’s a statement from Little England.”
The Prime Minister has suggested that he wants to see UK foreign aid moved from African countries such as Zambia and Tanzania to countries bordering Russia.
He told MPs: “It’s no use a British diplomat going to see the leader of a country and urging him not to cut the head off his opponent… if the next day another emanation of this government is going to arrive with a cheque for £250m.”
LabourList will be in conversation with Shadow International Development Secretary Preet Kaur Gill MP on Thursday at 6pm.