MPs slam Boris Johnson’s ‘impulsive’ decision to merge overseas aid department with the Foreign Office
Boris Johnson announced last month plans to merged DfID and the Foreign Office (PA)
MPs have criticised Boris Johnson’s “costly and disruptive” plans to absorb the Department for International Development (DfID) back into the Foreign Office.
In a report published on Thursday, members of the International Development Committee (IDC) warned that any short-term savings from the merger could prove “costly and disruptive” in the future and “impair organisational effectiveness”.
And they say the move could reduce the UK’s standing on the international stage, despite Boris Johnson claiming as he announced the tie-up that it would “strengthen our position in an intensely competitive world”.
Concerns are also raised about a lack of consultation over the changes, with the committee calling on ministers to present the Commons with an evidence-based rationale for the move.
Labour said the IDC’s analysis was “more damning evidence” that Boris Johnson’s decision to combine the departments was “done on a whim”
Setting out the committee’s findings, IDC chair Sarah Champion said: “Our evidence shows DfID has a glowing reputation overseas, its expertise envied and its aid programmes delivering a lifeline for many of the world’s poorest and most vulnerable.
"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.”
She added: “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.”
Recommendations put forward in the report include establishing a Minister for Development within the Foreign Office, retaining the ICAI aid watchdog, and replacing the IDC with a new Official Development Assistance select committee.
Commenting on the report, Labour’s Shadow International Development Secretary Preet Gill said: “This report provides yet more damning evidence that the Prime Minister’s decision to axe the Department for International Development was done on a whim.
“It was taken with no consultation, no evidence and no plan, but it is not too late for him to change his mind.
“Labour recognises the importance of development and is committed to supporting the world’s poorest and most vulnerable.”
Meanwhile, Oxfam GB chief executive Danny Sriskandarajah said: "The committee is right - the demise of DFID is likely to do real damage to the world’s poorest people and to Britain’s international standing.
"British people expect our aid to be used for the benefit of those without clean water, medicines or food. But the timing and presentation of this merger clearly indicate that it was primarily about politics rather than becoming more effective in helping people to escape poverty.
"At a time when Covid is making millions of people poorer and hungrier, this decision was not just impulsive but also deeply irresponsible."
The Lib Dems also threw their weight behind the report, branding the Prime Minister’s plans “half-baked”.
Their International Development Spokesperson Wendy Chamberlain added: “For countless vulnerable people in need around the globe, UK international aid has made a vital difference. We should be proud of that.
“All the experts warn that Dominic Raab’s half-baked plan is threatening international aid. The Tories should be ashamed for looking at reducing global poverty as nothing more than a political choice.”
But the TaxPayers' Alliance dismissed its findings, claiming that MPs “must be on another planet” to think “streamlining foreign aid will undermine” would damage the UK’s reputation.
A government spokesman said: "The new Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office will place our world-class development programmes at the heart of our foreign policy.
"Combining the development expertise of Dfid with the diplomatic reach of the Foreign Office will maximise the impact of our aid budget in helping the very poorest, while making sure we get the very best value for UK taxpayers' money in a world-leading department."
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