British Prime Minister Boris Johnson says his country needs to strengthen its position in an “intensely competitive world by making sensible changes” to it’s international relations.
Johnson said this when he announced the merger of the Department of International Development (DFID) and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) into one new department to bring together Britain’s international effort.
He wondered why Zambia should get the same amount of aid as Ukraine when the latter was vital for European security.
“We give as much aid to Zambia as we do to Ukraine, though the latter is vital for European security. We give 10 times as much aid to Tanzania as we do to the six countries of the Western Balkans, who are acutely vulnerable to Russian meddling. And, regardless of the merits of these decisions, no single department is currently empowered to judge whether they make sense or not: so we tolerate an inherent risk of our left and right hands working independently. Faced with this crisis today and the opportunities that lie ahead, we have a responsibility to ask whether our current arrangements dating back to 1997 still maximise British influence. Those intentions and decisions of 23 years ago were right for that time…we must now strengthen our position in an intensely competitive world by making sensible changes,” Johnson said.
“So I have decided to merge DFID with the foreign and commonwealth office to create a new department, the Foreign Commonwealth and Development Office. This will unite our aid with our diplomacy and bring them together in our international effort. DFID has amassed world class expertise and all of its people can take pride in how they have helped to transform the lives of hundreds of millions of people across the world. Just to cite a few examples, they have paved way for millions of girls to attend school for the first time in countries such as Pakistan. DFID have done their utmost to ease suffering in Syria and Sierra Leon they were central to the defeat of the outbreak of Ebola and all of this amounts to the finest demonstration of British values following in the great tradition. It is precisely that ambition, vision and expertise that will now be at the heart of the new department, taking forward the aid of the UK to reduce poverty and will remain central to our mission.”
And announcing the merging of two government departments in Parliament, Johnson said the new department called the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) which would be established later this year would be led by the foreign secretary.
The Prime Minister explained that the UK’s trade commissioners would be placed under the authority of UK Ambassadors overseas in order to bring more coherence to the UK’s international presence.
“The foreign secretaries will be empowered to decide which country will receive British aid while delivering a single UK strategy for each country overseen by National Security Council (NSC) which I chair. Those strategies will be implemented on the ground by the UK ambassador who will lead all of the government work in the host country and in this we are following the examples of Australia, Canada and New Zealand, all of these run their development programmes from their foreign ministries. We will align other British assets overseas including our trade commissioners who will come under the authority of the UK ambassador, bringing more coherence to our international presence,” he said.
Johnson said the merger of the two departments was also an opportunity for the UK to have a greater impact and influence on the world stage as it recovered from the effects of COVID-19 pandemic.
“Now amid this (COVID-19) this house may ask if this is the right moment to reorganize this but in reality this crisis has already imposed fundamental changes on the way that we operate and if there is one further lesson it’f that the whole of government approach, getting maximum value for the British taxpayer is just important abroad as it is at home. And so, this is exactly the moment when we must mobilise every one of our national assets including our aid budget and expertise to safeguard British interests and values overseas and the best instrument for doing that will be a new department charged with using all the tools, our British influence to cease the opportunities,” said Johnson.