With the news that the Department for International Development has finally been reabsorbed into the Foreign Office, James Wallice puts forward the argument that this is a colossal mistake at a time where British soft power is more important than ever.
The merger of the Department for International Development with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office has unsurprisingly caused quite the stir in Whitehall and beyond. Conservative MPs such as former DfID Secretary of State, Andrew Mitchell MP have branded the latest Cummings snatch and grab plan as a “quite extraordinary self-inflicted wound” that will do “huge damage” to Britain’s foreign influence.
Senior diplomatic figures across Geneva, Whitehall and New York will surely be poached by NGOs and other third-sector organisations and Britain will lose her most admiral characteristic of foreign policy: international aid as a tool to promote sustainable development, eliminating poverty within the third world.
To the relief of some, reports have confirmed Johnson’s intention to maintain DfID’s £15billion budget, with the continued commitment to spending 0.7% of national income on aid projects abroad. However, concerns arise when we begin to question the FCO’s effectiveness to prioritise the eradication of poverty and inequity over the political interests of Britain’s foreign relations and big business. Yet, the Prime Minister’s Cummings-esque description of Britain’s international development budget as “some giant cashpoint in the sky” shows at best a complete misinterpretation of the complexities and sophistication of delivering world-leading multi-country development programmes. At worst it shows a complete contempt for DfID’s command, aspiration, and accomplishment. Indeed, what’s so disheartening and concerning about this merger isn’t the recalibration of Whitehall, rather it’s the pivotal change in foreign policy that will serve to establish foreign aid as a political tool in Boris Johnson’s post-Brexit toolbox.
A tactic that is more attuned to the foreign policy techniques of China and Russia, the absorption of DfID by the FCO serves to establish an interdependent relationship between British foreign and domestic motives, as a prerequisite for Britain’s post-Brexit emergence as an economic and political power. Should Britain choose to provide aid, it should not be done under the sole proviso of increasing its influence in global governance.
Time and time again, DfID has proven to be a leading institution in promoting sustainable development, whilst fighting to eradicate world poverty. Whether that be providing 17 million people with improved access to clean, sustainable energy or the establishment of maternal and newborn health care programs, saving the lives of 60,000 children, 42,000 newborns and 2,000 pregnant women across six of the programme states. DfID had vehemently established herself as a moral force for good, irrespective of the politics that comes with it.
Whilst I recognise it’s not our sole duty to fix the planet, it is our moral duty to play our part. Whether that be taking a stand against the cruel imprisonment of an estimated one and half million Uyghurs, Kazakhs, Kyrgyz and other ethnic Turkic Muslims in China’s Xinjiang re-education camps, or assisting, supporting and aiding the 12 million children in Yemen who are in need of humanitarian assistance. If Britain is to remain a global leader, these are the injustices in which we must fight. And so by scrapping the Department for International Development, Britain’s once previous world-renowned admiration will be under threat. By resorting to foreign policy techniques more attuned to Xi Jinping’s China, this Government’s foreign policy will develop into a system based upon merit, rather than doing what is right and will thus lose all form of respect.
Indeed, this is why the Department for International Development is an admired institution across the international stage. Its independent coordination, away from Westminster politics, enables the department to fund, support and embed itself in organisations across the developing world. Its merger with the FCO not only risks diminishing Britain’s international voice amongst those who choose to fight world poverty, but it seeks to undermine and diminish the very ideas in which the Department for International Development was founded upon; and for that, international politics will be much poorer.
James Wallice is Editor-in-Chief of Gwydir and President of the Cardiff University Conservative Association