LONDON (AP) — Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced Tuesday that he is merging the British government’s international development department into its foreign ministry to create a “super department” in charge of both diplomacy and aid.
Johnson told lawmakers that the Department for International Development will combined with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office into the new Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office.
He said aid and foreign policy “are one and the same endeavor” and the combined department would “magnify” Britain’s voice on the world stage.
Critics argued that the move would dilute Britain’s role in international development. But Johnson said many other countries, including Canada, New Zealand and Australia, already deliver aid through their foreign ministries.
“This is exactly the moment when we must mobilize every one of our national assets, including our aid budget and expertise, to safeguard British interests and values overseas — and the best possible instrument for doing that will be a new department charged with using all the tools of British influence to seize the opportunities ahead,” Johnson said.
Opposition Labour Party leader Keir Starmer said the government shakeup was “the tactics of pure distraction,” intended to deflect attention from the Conservative government’s mishandling of the coronavirus pandemic. Britain’s reported COVID-19 death toll of more than 41,800 as of Tuesday is the third-highest in the world, according to a Johns Hopkins University tally.
Starmer said that abolishing the development department “diminishes Britain’s place in the world.”
Johnson’s announcement also earned a rare rebuke from a previous Conservative prime minister, David Cameron.
Cameron tweeted that abolishing the development department was a “mistake” that would mean “less expertise, less voice for development at the top table and ultimately less respect for the UK overseas.”
Andrew Mitchell, who served as development secretary in a previous Conservative government, said abolishing the department “would destroy one of the most effective and respected engines of international development anywhere in the world.”
Johnson said the U.K. would continue to to meet the United Nations’ target of spending 0.7% of Gross National Income on foreign aid.