Dfid and Global Britain

The Prime Minister Boris Johnson, MP for Uxbridge and South Ruslip, announced on 16 June that the Department for International Development (Dfid) would be abolished – folded into the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCo) to form, by September, the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office led by Dominic Raab – the current Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth affairs.

Unsurprisingly, many on the left have argued that this is nothing more than a distraction; a way to draw the public’s attention away from important matters like coronavirus or the Black Lives Matter protest. Or that the abolition of Dfid will stop international aid and result in aid being withheld from the most vulnerable and the most in need. Or that this is self- mutilation by the British Government which will limit our influence on the world stage – not enhance.

This is not true. The move to fold Dfid into the Foreign Office has slowly taken shape and evolved since Boris Johnson’s tenure as Secretary of State for the Foreign Office (2016- 2018). A report, endorsed by the PM (with a forward by him), by Bob Seely MP and James Rogers was published by the Henry Jackson Society titled ‘Global Britain: a twenty first century vision’ in February 2019. The report provides a number of policy recommendations within three areas – Strategy, Structure and Spending.

The first recommendation for ‘Structure’ is:

Integration: To support the government’s drive for integrated working across departments to deliver its global strategy, the department for international development (Dfid) and department for international Trade (DiT) should be amalgamated into the Foreign and Commonwealth office (FCo) as new agencies, similar to the model used in Australia and Canada.

Given that this report was published in February 2019, it should come as no surprise that Dfid is to be folded into the FCO and from the above we can expect that same to happen to the Department for International Trade. Therefore, the argument by the left that this is a distraction is misguided and events before and since the publication of the report demonstrates that this has been planned and progressed, albeit slowly for some time.

In 2017 the then Prime Minster, Theresa May speaking in January (six months after Brexit), at a press conference discussed the ‘Plan for Britain’ outlining 12 objectives for the future. Specific mention was made to ‘a truly Global Britain’ and this was heralded as the prize for the country. Essentially the four objectives for Global Britain have been seen in our day to day politics ever since:

  • Free Trade with European Markets
  • New Trade Agreements with other countries
  • The best place for science and innovation
  • Co-operation in the fight against crime and terrorism

The government are championing and pushing a free trade agreement with the European Union, but also other countries across the globe. Trade negations have started with the United States, Japan, Australia and New Zealand with the UK signing up to participate in the Comprehensive and Progressive Trans Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), which accounts for four continents and 13% of all world GPD with the indo-pacific region expected to be the emerging economic power this century. If the UK succeeds in joining this partnership GDP for the partnership would increase to 16%.

Some countries, like Australia and Japan hope that once the UK takes up it seat at the World Trade Organisation that reforms internally can begin to preserve and champion free trade in a world where protectionism is starting to take hold. In the words of Dominic Raab in September 2019 the vision is ‘a truly Global Britain to the UN – leading by example as a force for good in the world’.

It will be history that determines if Global Britain is a force for good, however, part of Global Britain is to champion the “three freedoms” – Freedom for Trade, Oppression and Thought.

For trade the ambition is to become a global champion of a reformed WTO – a role seen as being abdicated, temporarily at least, by the United States and not naturally filled by either China or the EU who aren’t natural “free traders”. Oppression aims to oppose and end modern day slavery, indentured labour and championing fundamental human rights with ‘Thought’ seeking to defend against authoritarianism to create an open, tolerant and creative society.

To deliver on these freedoms and to make reality the vision of Global Britain, change is and must happen. The UK has some world class institution’s at home and globally that we often forget about – few are aware and familiar with the BBC World Service, yet renewing and reinvigorating the service is part of Global Britain’s vision to really push the BBC to become a global broadcaster – one of integrity, free press and credible journalism that could be imported to countries that might lack free press. Funding for this world service has been proposed as a new definition of “international development” earmarked at £1 billion.

That’s a lot of money, however, the current International Development fund by the UK is 0.7% of GNI approx. £14 billion. In the past the spending of the fund has been criticised including the rules that govern the scheme. Over £151m was paid out as aid to both China and India in 2018 – two large growing economies with their own nuclear power and space programmes – with China being the second largest economy in the world it begs the question ‘what is the aid being spent on?’ Another Dfid controversy was the £5 million to Yegna – touted as Ethiopia’s Spice Girls…that’s £5 million that could have been spent on actual aid for shelter, food, water and medicine. Not to some pop group.

As one of very few counties that are committed to the voluntary 0.7% this commitment could change, although there has bee a re-commitment by Dominic Raab to maintain the

0.7% spend. What is certain is that rules on how the fund is used will change to better align with British values and to deliver effective meaningful aid.