SMP opposes merging of DFID and FCO

16 Jun 2020
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The SMP is sorely disappointed with the UK Government’s decision to merge its Department for International Development (DFID) with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO).  The sector stands as one in criticising this dangerous, regressive move which will significantly weaken the UK’s international development work, at a critical time in the Covid-19 pandemic.

We have written to the Prime Minister, and you can read that letter by clicking here:

The SMP is strongly supportive of both DFID and the FCO.  Both departments do outstanding work.  However, we believe it is crucial for the success of both that they remain independent of each other.  The FCO exists to advance Britain’s interests abroad: it is about building relationships and influencing others to act in a way that benefits the UK.  In contrast, DFID exists to fight extreme poverty, the great moral outrage of our time.  DFID must be able to prioritise work based on objective assessment as to where there is greatest need and where it can have greatest impact, independent of the UK’s own domestic economic and political priorities. 

We feel it is alarmingly short-sighted to merge these two departments, especially when the UK has such a strong reputation for the quality, impact and independence of its development work.

Earlier this year, 23 Scottish MPs (listed at the base of this article), from three political parties, contacted the SMP to pledge support for our five Scotland-Malawi commitments, which included the below pledge:

“We support the continued existence of the Department for International Development (DFID) as a standalone government department, independent of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, with its own Secretary of State.  In this regard we stand with over 100 of the UKs largest charities, respecting the vital role DFID plays and the global leadership the UK has shown through DFID’s work. UK aid should not be a vehicle for UK foreign policy, or its commercial or political objectives.” 

Scotland is proud to be an outward-looking nation: this is part of what defines us.  Good global citizenship is integral to this sense of internationalism and we are disappointed that at this critical time international development seems to be de-prioritized by the UK Government.  This is not what we want or expect. 

The decision by the UK Government to merge the departments goes against the findings of an interim report by the cross-party parliamentary International Development Committee, published just the previous week, and a statement by over 100 leading UK NGOs.  The decision has been widely criticised, including by three former Prime Ministers, including David Cameron.

We believe merging DFID with the FCO will weaken our ability as a nation to act responsibly in supporting those more vulnerable than ourselves.

 

The Prime Minister’s statement: our analysis

Watch the Prime Minister’s announcement and questions in the House [13.46 to 14.47]

We were dismayed to listen to the Prime Minister’s statement on ‘Global Britain’, in which he said:

  • “Distinctions between diplomacy and overseas development are artificial and outdated”
  • “Aid and foreign policy are one of the same”
  • “We give as much aid to Zambia as we do to Ukraine, though the latter is vital to European security”
  • “We must now strengthen our position in an intensely competitive world”
  • “Every single person working in that new Whitehall super-department … will now have all the idealism and sense of purpose that comes from DFID but also the understanding of the need to project UK values, UK policies and UK interests overseas” 

With this, we fear the Prime Minister has entirely misunderstood the purpose of international development: to fight extreme poverty. We find it deeply alarming that that the Prime Minister does not recognise the elementary distinction between aid (what is in the interest of the poorest and most vulnerable, and how best to fight poverty) and wider foreign policy (what is in the UK’s interest and how do we get others to advance this).  

Furthermore, the Prime Minister seemed to show contempt at times for DFID, its work and values, saying: “For too long, frankly, UK overseas aid has been treated as some giant cash point in the sky that arrives without any interest to the value the UK wishes to express or the priorities, diplomatic, political or commercial, of the government of the UK. ”  

Each of the opposition parties highlighted similar concerns.

Keir Starmer MP, Labour, said:

“I want to see Britain as a moral force for good in the world…leading the global fight against poverty, climate change and gender inequality.  We don’t achieve that by abolishing one of the best performing and most important Departments.” 

Ian Blackford MP, SNP, said:

“…the Prime Minister and his UK Government are using the cover of a terrible pandemic to rip apart the UK’s structures for international development and humanitarian aid.  At a time when we should be standing with the world’s poorest, acting as a beacon of hope the Prime Minister is playing politics…If these are the values of Global Britain then they do not represent the values of the vast majority of people in Scotland and we want no part in it.”

Sir Edward Davey MP, Liberal Democrat, said:

“Britain’s international aid should have one overall purpose: to help the world’s poorest.  Confusing this objective for Britain’s aid budget with other foreign and security policy objectives is a massive step backwards. When the world’s poorest are exposed to the worst pandemic for a century why has the Prime Minister chosen this moment to step back from Britain’s leadership in the fight against global poverty”

Kirsty Blackman MP, SNP, said:

“International aid is about assisting people who are living in unimaginable poverty. The Prime Minister’s answers today have been massively concerning. Will the priority of the new Department be to help the most vulnerable people in the world or will it be to increase the UK’s voice abroad.”

Wera Hobhouse MP, of the Liberal Democrats, said:

“All I am hearing from today’s exchange is we will only help the poorest in the world if they are buying British goods… Words fail me at the cowardly abdication of Britain’s global responsibility to the poorest in the world.”

 

Scottish MPs who signed Scotland-Malawi pledge after the last election: 

MP

Constituency

Party

Alison Thewliss MP

Glasgow Central

SNP

Angus MacNeil MP

Na h-Eileanan an Iar

SNP

Anne McLaughlin MP

Glasgow North East

SNP

Chris Law MP

Dundee West

SNP

Chris Stephens MP

Glasgow South West

SNP

Dave Doogan MP

Angus

SNP

David Linden MP

Glasgow East

SNP

Deidre Brock MP

Edinburgh North & Leith

SNP

Gavin Newlands MP

Paisley and Renfrewshire North

SNP

Ian Blackford MP

Ross, Skye & Lochaber

SNP

Ian Murray MP

Edinburgh South

Scottish Labour

Jamie Stone MP

Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross

Scottish Liberal Democrats

Kenny MacAskill MP

East Lothian

SNP

Lisa Cameron MP

East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow

SNP

Marion Fellows MP

Motherwell and Wishaw

SNP

Martin Docherty-Hughes MP

West Dunbartonshire

SNP

Neale Hanvey MP

Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath

SNP

Patricia Gibson MP

North Ayrshire and Arran

SNP

Patrick Grady MP

Glasgow North

SNP

Richard Thomson MP

Gordon

SNP

Ronnie Cowan MP

Inverclyde

SNP

Stuart Campbell McDonald MP

Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East

SNP

Wendy Chamberlain MP

North East Fife

Scottish Liberal Democrats