Johnson 'reserves his position' on amending 2002 International Development Act

U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson at a Cabinet meeting at FCO. Photo by: Andrew Parsons / No 10 Downing Street / CC BY-NC-ND

LONDON — U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson refused to rule out changes to the 2002 International Development Act during a session with politicians Wednesday.

Asked by Parliament’s influential Liaison Committee if he was considering changes to the law, Johnson said, “I’ll have to reserve my position on amending the act.”

The International Development Act is a cornerstone of U.K. development policy and rules that official development assistance spending must be “likely to contribute to a reduction in poverty.”

“I want FCDO and everyone in it to be animated by the same spirit and idealism that I think DFID had.”

— U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson

U.K. civil society is concerned that the government could try to weaken the conditions for aid spending.

Sarah Champion, chair of the International Development Committee, which scrutinizes U.K. aid spending and development policy, also pushed the prime minister on whether the country would continue to spend aid according to the rules of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development's Development Assistance Committee.

“What we want to do is ensure that ODA is better spent on serving the interests — £16 billion [$21 billion] worth of U.K. taxpayers’ money — is better spent on serving the diplomatic, the political, the values of the U.K. and indeed the commercial, the employment, the jobs interests of the U.K. as well,” Johnson replied.

The OECD-DAC rules are considered the international standard for quality aid spending, designed to ensure that aid “targets the economic development and welfare of developing countries,” according to the body.

Champion’s committee — widely considered a key pillar of U.K. aid scrutiny — is currently fighting for its future and is trying to galvanize support among members of Parliament in preparation for a vote on whether it should be kept.

Despite his ministers having sent correspondence informing her committee that it would be shut down, Johnson said he relished parliamentary scrutiny of aid and “greatly” sympathized with members of Parliament who wanted a “separate group who can look at development issues.”

IDC faces closure as chair calls for new committee to scrutinize aid

There are questions over how UK aid will be scrutinized following the merger of DFID and FCO.

“It’s a matter for Parliament, and I’m not going to impose my own views on it,” he said.

When asked if it would be a free vote and not influenced by government whips, Johnson replied: “Yes. … These are large budgets, and it's a very important matter. I want FCDO [the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office] and everyone in it to be animated by the same spirit and idealism that I think DFID [the former Department for International Development] had.”

The prime minister was unable to give detailed answers on the makeup of the country’s post-Brexit “Global Britain” agenda but said the U.K. would “continue to show international leadership” on global health, trade, and climate change.

About the author

  • William Worley

    William Worley is the U.K. Correspondent for Devex, covering DFID and British aid. Previously, he reported on international affairs, policy, and development. He also worked as a reporter for the U.K. national press, including the Times, Guardian, Independent, and i Paper. His reportage has included work on the Rohingya refugee crisis in Bangladesh, drought in Madagascar, the "migrant caravan" in Mexico, and Colombia’s peace process.