Reports have emerged stating that the UK government is considering scrapping the independent Department for International Development (DFID), merging its function with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and abolishing its Secretary of State. This short-sighted move raises grave concerns about the ability of the government to ensure that the UK is contributing to an effective, long-term response to violent conflict overseas. DFID’s vital work to support civil society overseas and local communities working to build peace could diminish as a result.
Paul Murphy, Executive Director of Saferworld, said:
“While joined up policy making is crucial for addressing conflict overseas, scrapping one of the government’s departmental tools is not the way to achieve this. With DFID holding a seat on the National Security Council, it is not clear how the UK will ensure that a developmental approach to these challenges will now be fed into its national security policy.”
Jonathan Cohen, Executive Director of Conciliation Resources added:
"Having a strong international development voice in the NSC improves the UK's national security approach by focusing attention on the causes of conflict, such as political exclusion and marginalisation."
The centrality of overseas development to UK interests has been set out in previous national security reviews – with the National Security Capability Review in 2018 noting that ‘development helps create the foundations for global security and prosperity. As a result, development assistance is an essential part of the UK’s approach to national security.’ This – and the vision of global Britain that works to build a better world – could now be threatened.
DFID contains teams of internationally-respected experts, focused specifically on conflict prevention and peacebuilding, which have for decades worked to build conditions for peaceful societies around the world. DFID is committed to spending 50% of its budget in conflict-affected and fragile states. The potential merger also raises questions as to how the government would replace DFID’s unique expertise and role on the National Security Council, where it is represented by its Secretary of State, and in the Joint Export Control Unit on arms sales licensing.
Mike Young, CEO of International Alert also stated:
“Not only is DFID a bastion of specific conflict expertise, but an independent DFID has built up a track record of ensuring aid is spent well and transparently on behalf of the UK tax payer and for those most vulnerable around the world. It is not clear how that quality of work would be safeguarded if the department is scrapped.”
The UK government should commit to keeping an independent DFID and set out how it intends to improve aid spending across other government departments, and safeguard or expand DFID’s inputs to the National Security Council and decision making on arms exports.
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