LONDON — A representative of the United Kingdom government has reassured lawmakers that it does not support a proposal from some members of the Conservative Party to merge the Department for International Development with the Foreign & Commonwealth Office.
“I was not reassured by the minister and nor did I expect to be.”— Lloyd Russell-Moyle, U.K. Labour MP
However, some were unimpressed by the reassurance offered by Harriett Baldwin, joint minister for DFID and FCO, during a debate on the future of DFID in the House of Commons on Wednesday, after concerns rose about the government’s intentions on the issue.
When asked by Labour Member of Parliament Tanmanjeet Singh Dhesi whether she could “categorically say she is against” the proposal that DFID be rolled back into FCO made by MP Boris Johnson in recent months, Baldwin replied, “I can give that reassurance.”
Speaking moments earlier, Baldwin also said: “I am glad to be able to reassure honorable members that it is indeed the government’s policy to continue with the excellent work of the standalone Department for International Development.”
While welcomed by Dhesi, Baldwin’s comments were seen as less than reassuring by others in the chamber and those following the debate.
“It was promising that … Harriet Baldwin reassured parliamentarians that there are no plans to merge DFID and FCO,” Claire Godfrey, head of policy and campaigns at the NGO network Bond, told Devex. However, she added that such reassurances really need to come from the U.K.’s most senior aid minister, Penny Mordaunt, who was not present at the debate.
Mordaunt’s repeated statements that DFID is not an “independent” department have sparked fears for its future over the past month.
“It would be more welcome for the secretary of state to champion the importance of an independent DFID that abides by the U.K. and international aid rules, ensuring aid goes to the world’s poorest people and is not diverted away from those who need help the most,” Godfrey said.
Labour MP Lloyd Russell-Moyle, a member of parliament’s International Development Committee and an attendee at the debate, also told Devex: “I was not reassured by the minister and nor did I expect to be.”
Russell-Moyle believes Mordaunt is being evasive on the issue in order to garner support for a potential leadership bid. “Penny Mordaunt is focused on trying to become the next leader of a party which is now run by people who would rather Britain did away with aid entirely, so she is refocusing her department, in rhetoric at least, away from poverty reduction,” he said.
However, a number of Conservatives spoke in favor of an independent DFID during Wednesday’s debate, including Jeremy Lefroy, MP for Stafford and a former member of the International Development Committee.
“DFID ... gives aid and development a real, independent voice at cabinet and it also ... gives the chance for a long-term view to be taken of development. I fear that if it were put into another department then the priorities of that other department would take precedence,” he said.
A DFID spokesperson told Devex this week: “DFID is a standalone government department. This is government policy and there is no suggestion this is going to change.”