Controversial decision to close Dfid 'not discussed' within Cabinet, Matt Hancock says

Health secretary describes foreign aid department as something dreamt up 'back in the last century'

Rob Merrick
Deputy Political Editor
Wednesday 17 June 2020 11:33
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Boris Johnson announces disbanding of DFID as Starmer accuses him of 'distractions'

Cabinet ministers were shut out of the hugely-controversial decision to axe the overseas aid department and shift spending from poor countries to foreign policy aims, one has admitted.

Boris Johnson made the choice alone, Matt Hancock said – as he described the Department for International Development (DfiD) as something created “back in the last century”.

The move has been condemned by three previous prime ministers, including David Cameron, who warned the UK’s international reputation will suffer.

Aid groups are alarmed by Mr Johnson stating openly his intention to divert cash currently spent fighting poverty in Africa to geopolitical priorities such as resisting Russia.

He angered many MPs by lashing out at DfiD as a “giant cashpoint in the sky”, divorced from Britain’s real interests, during a Commons statement.

Asked if the “merger” with the Foreign Office had been “discussed in Cabinet”, Mr Hancock, the health secretary, said: “Erm, no it wasn’t.

“It’s absolutely right that it’s the prime minister’s decision, in the same way that all these machinery of government changes, as they are called, are individually made by the prime minister.”

Mr Johnson has long raged against the level of aid spending, first calling for a cut and for the money to be spent in the UK’s “political and commercial interests” in a pamphlet last year

Making the announcement on Tuesday, he signalled the huge shift to come by protesting: “We give as much aid to Zambia as we do to Ukraine, though the latter is vital for European security.

“We give ten times as much aid to Tanzania as we do to the six countries of the Western Balkans, who are acutely vulnerable to Russian meddling.”

Dfid will be swallowed up, in September, into a new Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, with Dominic Raab in charge of aid allocations.

“The Foreign Secretary will be empowered to decide which countries receive – or cease to receive – British aid,” Mr Johnson told MPs.

Speaking on Sky News, Mr Hancock was asked if the decision betrayed that the Conservatives were not “equally concerned about kids overseas” as those struggling in this country.

But he insisted it was right for aid spending to be “tied together with our overall diplomatic approach, rather than them being run separately”.

The health secretary also confirmed that the 2.2 million people in England who are currently shielding will be given more freedoms in an announcement “very soon”.

The scheme, where people are currently told they can leave home if they wish, as long as they are able to maintain strict social distancing, is expected to be axed at the end of July.

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