Boris Johnson’s new ‘super department’ is good news for UK-India ties
The British Prime Minister recently confirmed the merger of the UK’s aid department with the Foreign Office, a move that holds promise to further align UK-India bilateral trade interests.
In a big reboot of the UK government structural set-up, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson recently confirmed a long-expected merger of the Department for International Development (DfID) with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) to create a new “super department”.
Johnson told the House of Commons on June 16 that the move was aimed at a more “coherent” foreign policy approach to the country’s aid budget, which will lead to a brand-new ministry called the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office by early September. UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab will be in the overall in-charge of the new department and set the UK’s foreign policy as well as aid agenda.
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“I have begun the biggest review of our foreign, defence and development policy since the end of the Cold War, designed to maximise our influence and integrate all the strands of our international effort,” Johnson told MPs.
“We must now strengthen our position in an intensely competitive world by making sensible changes, and 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,” he said.
In reference to the timing of his decision amid the coronavirus pandemic, the UK PM said the one “cardinal lesson” of the Covid-19 pandemic is that distinctions between diplomacy and overseas development are “artificial and outdated”.
“This crisis offers vivid proof of the seminal importance of international engagement and exactly why our country must perform its global role,” Johnson said.
“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 possible instrument for doing that will be a new department charged with using all the tools of British influence to seize the opportunities ahead,” he said.
The PM also announced that the UK’s Trade Commissioners will come under the authority of UK Ambassadors and High Commissioners overseas as part of a more joined-up approach to the UK’s international presence.
He said: “The Foreign Secretary will be empowered to decide which countries receive – or cease to receive – British aid, while delivering a single UK strategy for each country, overseen by the national security council, which I chair.
“Those strategies will be implemented on the ground by the relevant UK ambassador, who will lead all of the government’s work in the host country. We will learn from the examples of Australia, Canada and New Zealand, all of whom run their development programmes from their foreign ministries.”
While the UK has a development aid relationship with several countries in South Asia, it had concluded a conventional aid programme for India at the end of 2015, instead focusing on a project-led approach aimed at strengthening India-UK ties.
Intermittent cries from UK Parliament backbenches continue to question even that arrangement, against the backdrop of DfID earmarking around £52 million in 2018-19 and £46 million in 2019-20 towards its “India Profile”.
“DFID ended traditional aid to India in 2015. The UK now provides the country with world-leading expertise and private investment which boost prosperity, create jobs and open up markets, while generating a return for the UK at the same time,” the DfID statement of intent notes.
It has been often stressed that British taxpayers’ funds intended for India are “firmly” in UK interests.
In its “India Profile” assessment, DfID notes that it works in partnership with the FCO, the Department for International Trade and the UK Treasury to deliver joint economic development priorities in India, focusing on areas which will “generate the most jobs and lift people out of poverty”.
“Our partnership with India helps enhance investment and trade; increase prosperity and jobs in both countries; strengthen joint action on global issues of mutual concern; widen access to knowledge and technology and support the UK’s global security objectives,” DfID notes.
The proposition of a combined budget at the new “super department” ministry in a few months’ time will inevitably propel the UK and India closer towards that much-anticipated post-Brexit win-win trading relationship.
The Opposition Labour Party accused the Conservative Party government of trying to “deflect attention” from other pressing issues, such as rising unemployment as a result of the coronavirus lockdown, with the merger announcement.
“Abolishing DfID diminishes Britain’s place in the world. There is no rationale for making this statement today. The Prime Minister should stop these distractions and get on with the job of tackling the health and economic crisis,” said Labour Party Leader Keir Starmer.
The UK PM countered that his plans for a new “super department” with a sense of “idealism and mission” to project the UK’s interests overseas was a “long overdue reform”, which should be supported by the Opposition.
Raab, the intended minister in charge of the new department, stressed there were no plans to roll back the UK’s aid commitments.
He said: “We aren’t rolling back on our commitments to international development, including 0.7 per cent of GDP.
“DfID officials have done fantastic, life changing work from tackling disease and hunger across the globe, to combatting violence against women and girls while lifting millions out of poverty. Fused together we will leverage DfID expertise with the reach of the FCO global network.”