UK to merge aid and diplomacy departments

By on 16/06/2020 | Updated on 24/09/2020
PM Boris Johnson confirmed the merger in a speech titled ‘Global Britain’ on 16 June. (Image courtesy: Chatham House via flickr).

The Department for International Development (DfID), which manages the UK’s overseas aid, and the Foreign Office (FCO) are to merge this autumn.

The move was reported by the BBC, and confirmed by prime minister Boris Johnson in a speech titled ‘Global Britain’ on Tuesday afternoon. The move follows a review by crossbench peer Lord Bew into the UK’s £14bn (US$17.7bn) aid spend, which dwarfs the FCO’s budget.

The departments have shared a team of ministers since the February reshuffle, and a merger has long been mooted in Conservative Party circles. Supporters of the move argue it will enable the FCO to build aid spending around the UK’s national interests, supporting the ‘Fusion Doctrine’ set out by Cabinet secretary Mark Sedwill – who is also the national security adviser, and whose background lies in security and intelligence work. Championed in 2018’s National Security and Capability Review, Fusion Doctrine is – in the words of defence think tank RUSI – Sedwill’s “initiative to fuse capabilities, across ‘economic, security, social and the rest’, to deliver strategy-led design of policy and planning.”

However, the reform’s opponents argue that it will waste time and resources, while diluting the impact of UK aid spending on reducing poverty.

Two former international development secretaries promptly denounced the decision. Tory MP Andrew Mitchell, who ran the department between 2010 and 2012, said DfID is “one of the most effective and respected engines of international development anywhere in the world,” and that merging it with the FCO would be a “quite extraordinary mistake”.

Meanwhile Douglas Alexander, who served as international development secretary under Labour’s Gordon Brown, said absorbing DfID into the FCO would be “an act of national self-harm that would hurt both the UK’s global standing and our efforts to assist the world’s poorest people amidst a global pandemic”.

The FCO and the department now known as the DfID have a long history of being merged and separated. They were first merged in 1970, before being separated in 1974 and merged again in 1979. They were again separated after Tony Blair’s election in 1997.  

About Mia Hunt

Mia is a journalist and editor with a background in covering commercial property, having been market reports and supplements editor at trade title Property Week and deputy editor of Shopping Centre magazine, now known as Retail Destination. She has also undertaken freelance work for several publications including the preview magazine of international trade show, MAPIC, and TES Global (formerly the Times Educational Supplement) and has produced a white paper on energy efficiency in business for E.ON. Between 2014 and 2016, she was a member of the Revo Customer Experience Committee and an ACE Awards judge. Mia graduated from Kingston University with a first-class degree in journalism and was part of the team that produced The River newspaper, which won Publication of the Year at the Guardian Student Media Awards in 2010.

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