What a new prime minister does to make their mark on government speaks volumes about their priorities. And, like Theresa May before him, Boris Johnson is apparently planning to scrap a government department in this political equivalent of a dog pissing up a lamp post.
His choice of department, however, is drawing criticism from former Tory ministers. That’s how bad it is.
Poor people? Pah!
According to numerous reports, Johnson is planning on scrapping the Department for International Development (DfID). This is the department responsible for Britain’s foreign aid; the part of government that helps to support the world’s impoverished communities and worthwhile causes. The Independent says it’s going to be “swallowed up” by the Foreign Office under the new regime. Any move to do so chimes with remarks Johnson made earlier this year, when he said:
If ‘Global Britain’ is going to achieve its full and massive potential then we must bring DfID to the FCO.
Speaking to the Financial Times, Johnson also commented:
We can’t keep spending huge sums of British taxpayers’ money as though we were some independent Scandinavian NGO [non-governmental organisation].
The possible move to demote aid has drawn criticism from former Conservative ministers and others. Effectively reminding Johnson that the UK is not in fact an NGO but a wealthy country in a global, connected world, former international development secretary Andrew Mitchell said:
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DfID is the most effective and respected engine of development anywhere in the world, and a huge soft power asset for Britain.
Tackling insecurity and building prosperity directly affects our wellbeing in the UK. British leadership in this area is a core part of Global Britain.
Meanwhile, chief executive of Save the Children Kevin Watkins commented:
[If] reports of a potential merger of the FCO and Dfid are true this is a deeply damaging move that risks endangering the impact big-hearted Britons can have around the world.
True to form
The closing of DfID by Johnson’s government shouldn’t, however, come as a surprise. Home secretary Priti Patel has long argued that aid should be used to help UK trade deals and ‘make allies’ rather than for its intended purpose. In 2017, she even asked her then department DfID if it was possible to give aid to the Israeli military in the Golan Heights after having 14 undisclosed meetings with the country’s officials. This area is occupied by Israel.
More recently, May’s Conservative government used aid money to secure a “a review into Palestinian textbooks”. The review gave the UK a “central role” in making sure Palestinian children only look at materials that “promote peace and tolerance” in school. These children live under a violent military occupation which arrests hundreds of them every year. But the Conservatives used aid to make them more ‘tolerant’, rather than taking action against those who oppress them.
So scrapping DfID isn’t out of step for the Conservatives. It does, though, speak volumes about the particular direction of travel for the UK under Johnson.
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