Policy Update

In major blow to independent development assistance policy, UK's Department for International Development is merged into Foreign and Commonwealth Office

On June 16, 2020, the UK Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, announced that the Department for International Development (DFID) will be merged with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) to create a new Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office. Johnson said the merger was needed given the intensely competitive global geopolitical situation, citing the rising power of China in particular. He claimed that the new organization will enable the UK to fully unite its development assistance with its diplomacy efforts to bolster the UK's global foreign policy efforts.

The merger has been in the cards for some time; the Prime Minister publicly stated his support for the idea when he was Foreign Minister last year but the June 16 announcement has nonetheless taken many by surprise especially since it comes in the midst of the ongoing COVID-19 crisis. The decision was heralded as part of the government's ongoing integrated review of its foreign, defense, and development policy which has officially been put on pause due to COVID-19. 

In the past, NGOs in the development space have raised concerns that a merger could result in a less poverty-focused UK development program. These concerns will be heightened now, given that part of Johnson's explicitly stated rationale for the merger is the mismatch between how the UK currently directs its development assistance and UK diplomacy, foreign policy, and security goals. Johnson noted that DFID's budget is four times the budget for the FCO; DFID spends as much on assistance to Zambia as it does to Ukraine — even though Johnson claims the latter is vital for European security — and spends ten times as much on development in Tanzania than in six countries in the Western Balkans — countries which Johnson cited as vulnerable to Russian interventions.

Under the merger, the Foreign Secretary, Dominic Raab, will have the final say on what countries will receive UK development assistance and which will stop receiving it. A single UK strategy for each country will be overseen by the UK's National Security Council, which is chaired by the Prime Minister. In-country, all strategies will lead UK work at the country level and be implemented by UK Ambassadors.

The merger comes just one week after the UK cross-party parliamentary committee on international development called for the UK government to retain an independent DFID with a cabinet-level representative. The parliamentary committee’s interim report assessing UK development assistance effectiveness noted that a merger between DFID and the FCO had the potential to reduce the accountability of UK Official Development Assistance (ODA) and dilute the focus of UK ODA away from poverty reduction.

Press Release - UK Prime Minister's Speech to Parliament on DFID

News article - BBC

News article - The Guardian

News article - The Independent