General election: Foreign aid department could be scrapped if Tories win, minister says

Threat emerges amid suspicions about Boris Johnson’s plans – after he called for it to be gobbled up by Foreign Office

Rob Merrick
Deputy Political Editor
Wednesday 06 November 2019 17:07
Liverpool MP is sidestepped on question about DFID by foreign minister

The department delivering Britain’s foreign aid could be scrapped if the Conservatives win the general election, a minister has said.

Heather Wheeler came under fire after refusing to confirm a “stand-alone” department for international development (Dfid) would survive a Tory victory.

The threat was raised amid ongoing suspicions that Boris Johnson has Dfid in his sights, after previously calling for it to be swallowed up into the Foreign Office.

The prime minister backed a report which proposed the work of the department – set up by Tony Blair’s government in 1997 – should focus on commercial and diplomatic interests.

The charity Oxfam urged the prime minister to keep Dfid, telling The Independent: “The primary purpose of British aid is – and should continue to be – to fight poverty.

“As the department with the best track record in both tackling poverty and being accountable for how money is spent, the department for international development, has proved it is best placed to deliver this goal and continue to help the world’s poorest people.”

And Dan Carden, Labour’s shadow international development spokesman, said: “The Tories have a toxic track record on fighting poverty in the UK and overseas, so it’s no surprise they refuse to guarantee the future of Dfid and its vital work.

“A Labour government won’t turn its back on the world – we will champion a dedicated, independent department to tackle poverty, inequality and climate change.”

The controversy blew up after Ms Wheeler was challenged in the Commons chamber, by the outgoing chairman of the Commons international development committee.

“Will the minister take this opportunity to reaffirm the government’s commitment to the 0.7 per cent aid commitment and continuation of Dfid as a standalone, independent government department?” Stephen Twigg asked.

Ms Wheeler replied: “Absolutely, 0.7 per cent writ large, we’re very proud this is the Government that brought that in and put it on a statutory basis.”

Then she added: “As regards keeping Dfid going after the election, let’s get through the election.”

In July, in her parting shot to her successor, Theresa May hinted at her concern, backing a Conservative MP’s call for a “self-standing” Dfid to survive.

Five months earlier, Mr Johnson, the-then foreign secretary, had said: “If ‘Global Britain’ is going to achieve its full and massive potential then we must bring Dfid to the FCO [Foreign and Commonwealth Office].

He also accused the department of “inevitable waste as money is shoved out of the door in order to meet the 0.7 per cent target” – raising fears its budget will be slashed.

The report Mr Johnson backed was seen as paving the way for the £13.4bn pot to fund all peacekeeping work and world service broadcasting – diverting much of its cash to the Ministry of Defence and the BBC.

It was strongly criticised by aid campaigners, with Save The Children warning the UK was in danger of losing “its status as an international development superpower”.

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