Even the Tories can’t stomach Boris Johnson’s latest ‘damaging’ brainwave

Boris Johnson
Tracy Keeling

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].

Terrible move

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:

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.

Featured image via YouTube – The Telegraph

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  • Show Comments
    1. Given that international aid is somewhat of a scam for developing countries. I’d be glad to see it gone IF we also removed the unfair trade terms and crippling debt to developing countries… which the Tories will have no interest in doing.

    2. We will reap what we sow. Developing countries end up developed and many will be richer and more powerful than Britain. there is a consonance between virtue and enlightened self-interest. A generous act bring generosity in return. Cynics believe generosity is a weakness and pursue their ends through power. Johnson is supposed to be a classical scholar: if he has properly conned his Sophocles, Aeschylus, Euripides, Seneca, Cicero and others, he will know that the blind pursuit of power is the handmaiden of tragedy. We should help those in need not out of calculation, but because it is right. Surprisingly, doing what is right usually ends well. This shouldn’t surprise us: we are moral creatures by nature. We are thinking creatures by nature too. Try to stop yourself thinking. The only way you can try is by thinking about not thinking. Try to eliminate a sense of fairness from your mind. You can’t do it because we evolved for fairness. That’s why we recognise evil. Evil is to know something is wrong but to do it anyway because you believe there is advantage in it: Lady MacBeth, Raskolnikov, Iago, Regan and Goneril. In the short term, maybe. But in the long run, tragedy. Johnson is a product of that class which believes in ignoring what is right in pursuit of financial gain. And by the way, class is still the major determining factor of the way people vote. Just look at the electoral map. Almost all the Tory constituencies are places where wealth and income are above average. Surprising, eh?

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