Boris Johnson’s intention to merge the Department for International Development (DfID) with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) has not only tarnished the attractiveness of the UK, but it has also hugely affected its soft power ranking, causing it to slip to third place globally.
The aid directed by the DfID to African and Asian countries has benefited millions of lives. Merging the DFID with the FCO, which works for the national interest, would appear to politicise the international development sector. The DfID has helped millions regardless of their race, religion, and nationality. After the planned transition, it would seem to focus more on the areas in which the UK’s national interest lies, and that is where the UK might suffer in terms of attractiveness in regard to the international community. Those African and Asian states that greatly rely on international aid could be left vulnerable.
Furthermore, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) may take the opportunity to expand its goals and overtake the UK’s position in international development. It is equally important to mention that most ministers do not have expertise on underdeveloped areas and spend most of their time dealing with parliamentary affairs, which will likely slow down the process of deciding the destination and the size of the UK’s contributions to countries in need. The issue does not stop with the vulnerability of countries and ministers’ tight schedules.
The FCO has for a while been under added pressure from the Brexit debacle and its related negotiations; thus, taking on the added responsibility for international development could further affect its productivity and efficiency. The DfID’s yearly budget of 14 billion pounds is five times larger than that currently managed by the FCO. Diplomats speculate that current DfID funds will be spent in areas that provide more visibility and renown (perhaps on building infrastructure clearly marked by the Union Flag, rather than on improving the living conditions of the starving peoples of Africa and Asia.
As diplomats work to further the national interest, they may be more inclined to use the newly available funds to secure the support of countries such as Turkey or Vietnam in furthering the UK’s strategic goals, or perhaps to boost trade deals benefiting UK companies. The government could set up a structural joint mission whereby Ministers of State could be assigned particular areas on which to focus on in overseeing the aid allocation process. However, it seems likely that all the departmental merger will achieve will be complicating things.
The former Secretary of State for International Development Rory Stewart has stated that most UK diplomats do not have the skills and experience needed to allocate hundreds of millions of pounds to developmental programs. The diplomats will most likely transfer the funding from development to issues of interest to the Treasury. Therefore, the FO may weaken the UK’s international standing in relation to foreign aid. In my opinion, the decision to merge DfID and the FCO will fundamentally damage the UK’s position in the world.