Almost 200 charities have called on the government to reverse its decision to merge the Department for International Development into the Foreign Office.
Boris Johnson, the Prime Minister, announced last week that DfID would become part of the Foreign & Commonwealth Office from September, to widespread criticism from humanitarian aid and development charities.
A letter organised by the NGO umbrella body Bond and signed by 188 NGOs, think tanks and charities, calls on Johnson to reverse the decision because the move would undermine the UK’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic and “suggests the UK is turning its back on the world’s poorest people”.
It says: “The Foreign and Commonwealth Office and DfID are already highly aligned, contributing their different expertise to a global approach.
“This decision, taken during a global pandemic with no consultation, ahead of the review of development, diplomacy and defence, and against the recent advice of the cross-party International Development Select Committee, does not enhance our reputation in the world, but diminishes it. We urge you to reconsider this merger.”
It says that, despite government claims, the UK humanitarian and development sector was not consulted about the merger.
The letter outlines that the best way for the UK to remain a respected world leader in international development and deliver on key principles would be to retain an independent DfID led by its own secretary of state with Cabinet-level representation.
“Abolishing one of the world’s most effective and respected government departments at a time when the world is in need of global leadership undermines our response to Covid-19 and suggests the UK is turning its back on the world’s poorest people,” the letter says.
“It also risks us being less able to respond to the great challenges of our time, such as global health security and climate change.”
A spokeswoman for 10 Downing St told Third Sector that, although it had received the letter and would reply in due course, the government stood by the merger because the move would strengthen Britain’s “ability to lead the world’s efforts to recover from the coronavirus pandemic”.
She said: “As the Prime Minister has said, the merger of DfID and the FCO will ensure that all of our national assets – including our aid budget and expertise – are used to safeguard British interests and values overseas.
“This will strengthen our ability to lead the world’s efforts to recover from the coronavirus pandemic and allow us to seize the opportunities ahead as we prepare to take on the G7 presidency and host COP26 [the UN climate conference] next year.
“The work of UK aid to reduce poverty will remain central to the new department’s mission and we will continue to be guided by our responsibilities under the International Development Act, including a commitment to the target of spending 0.7 per cent, which is enshrined in law.
“The government will continue its ongoing engagement with UK and international NGOs, including on issues relating to the merger.”