On Tuesday, the Prime Minister U-turned on free school meal vouchers for disadvantaged kids in England, only to stand at the Dispatch Box and cancel meals for the world’s poorest. UK aid reduces suffering. It is not some “cashpoint in the sky”; we will look to the £900,000 military plane makeover for that. DFID is a world leader. It is what global Britain is all about. No wonder the proposed merger with the Foreign Office has been roundly condemned by three former Prime Ministers.
We have to question why this merger is happening now, in the middle of the coronavirus crisis, when our aid is needed most. Why is this happening prior to the integrated review? The Prime Minister insisted that massive consultation had taken place. Which non-governmental organisations were consulted? To my knowledge, none was. Can the Foreign Secretary confirm that DFID employees only heard the news on social media? Were unions consulted? Can the Foreign Secretary commit to retaining all jobs, including the 200 EU nationals who work for DFID and those in East Kilbride? What assessment have the Government made of how much this will all cost?
Is the Secretary of State for International Development happy with this change? It is striking that she has as yet made no statement on the matter. It is almost as though the merger has taken place overnight. Will international development retain a Cabinet Minister and a seat on the National Security Council, so that humanitarian concerns are heard at the very top of Government? The Government have committed to 0.7% of GNI on aid spending, but can the Foreign Secretary confirm that this will be overseen by the Independent Commission for Aid Impact? If not, how will the Foreign Office—poorly rated for official development assistance transparency—be held to account? Can the Government commit to maintaining the International Development Committee?
Can the Foreign Secretary guarantee that this will not open the door to tied aid? Do the Government have any intention to repeal or amend any legislation about international development, and if so, in what way? Do the Government intend to continue to use the Development Assistance Committee definition of aid, and if not, what definition will they use? Will the Government ensure that poverty reduction is central to our approach, and how is this consistent with the Prime Minister’s ambitions to take aid away from Zambia and give it to Ukraine?
Finally, what will happen to all new DFID projects, which reportedly have been paused, and will the Foreign Secretary have a say? How will this decision impact on current recipients of DFID’s spending? Will it impact on the UK’s Gavi commitments referenced by the Prime Minister, and will the Government commit to equitable access to covid-19 technologies?