Department for International Development to merge with Foreign Office

UK aid Credit: PA

Boris Johnson has defended his decision to scrap the Department for International Development in a merger with the Foreign Office after former Conservative prime minister David Cameron labelled it "a mistake"

In an earlier tweet, the former incumbent of Number 10 said Mr Johnson's move to merge the two department would result in “less respect” for the UK.

But as he came under fire from former prime ministers and international development secretaries, as well as Opposition MPs, Mr Johnson insisted the merger would create "a better, more powerful, more positive voice for this country overseas"

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer called the announcement of the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, a "distraction" from the UK's economic woes and high Covid-19 death toll.

In a statement on Tuesday to MPs, Mr Johnson said it was “outdated” to keep the departments separate.

Mr Johnson told the Commons on Tuesday: “We must now strengthen our position in an intensely competitive world by making sensible changes.

“And so I have decided to merge Dfid with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to create a new department, the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office.”

ITV News Political Correspondent Romilly Weeks explains how past UK leaders have reacted to the merger

Mr Cameron said that while the prime minister was “right to maintain the commitment to 0.7", merging the two departments "will mean less expertise, less voice for development at the top table and ultimately less respect for the UK overseas."

Sir Keir tweeted: “Boris Johnson abolishing an entire government department is a poor attempt at distraction.

“The economy contracted by 20% in April. We have one of the highest death tolls from Covid-19 in the world. And in the last hour, the Government have U-turned on free school meals.”

Former prime minister Tony Blair, whose government created Dfid, said the move was “wrong and regressive”.

In a statement, he said: “I am utterly dismayed by the decision to abolish Dfid. We created Dfid in 1997 to play a strong, important role in projecting British soft power. It has done so to general global acclaim.

“It is a leader in both programmes and thought in development, helping millions of the world’s most vulnerable to be relieved of poverty and killer diseases.

“The strategic aims of alignment with diplomacy and focus on new areas of strategic interest to Britain could be accomplished without its abolition. Wrong and regressive move.”

His successor Gordon Brown accused Mr Johnson of abolishing "one of the UK’s great international assets.”

Prime Minister Boris Johnson made the statement in the House of Commons. Credit: PA

Current Labour MPs also hit out at the move.

Shadow foreign secretary Lisa Nandy labelled it a retreat.

She tweeted: “Extraordinary that in the middle of a global crisis, the UK is retreating from the world.

“Aid has long been one of Britain’s strengths helping us to build strong alliances, act as a moral force and creating greater global security.

“Once again we are diminished in the world.”

Work will begin immediately on the merger and the department will be formally established in early September, with Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab in charge of the new-look operation.

International Development Secretary Anne-Marie Trevelyan will remain in post until the merger is complete.

Downing Street sources indicated that there would be no compulsory redundancies.

The target of spending 0.7% of GNI on development, which was part of the December manifesto and is enshrined in law, will remain, it has been confirmed.

Aid will be overseen by the Foreign Secretary as part of the shake-up. Credit: PA

Rory Stewart, both a former international development secretary and foreign office minister, said he would have been “strongly” arguing against the shake-up if he was still in office.

He added: “I don’t think it is the smart option.

“There are many other things we need to be concentrating on at the moment.

“It will lead to a lot of disruption, a lot of uncertainty at a time when the Foreign Office has an enormous amount to be focused on.”

It was rumoured during the February reshuffle that Boris Johnson was preparing to scrap the post of international development secretary before appointing Ms Trevelyan to the role.

Tory MP Andrew Mitchell, who served as international development secretary during the coalition government, joined in criticising the proposals, saying “abolishing Dfid would be a quite extraordinary mistake”.

In a statement to PA, the former Cabinet minister said it would “destroy one of the most effective and respected engines of international development anywhere in the world”.