Keir Starmer commits to reversal of ‘misguided’ DfID and Foreign Office merger

The Labour leader told The Rest is Politics podcast that the aid department was a ‘massive asset’ with the power to unlock promise globally

Keir Starmer has pledged to bring back the Department for International Development (DfID) if Labour win the next election, saying that its merger with the Foreign Office was “totally misguided”.

DfID was subsumed into the Foreign Office in 2020 under Boris Johnson’s government, which then proceeded to slash overseas aid from 0.7% to 0.5% of gross national income.

Speaking on The Rest is Politics podcast on Wednesday, the Labour leader said he would reverse the merger “for so many reasons”.

“We are [going to bring back DfID] – for so many reasons,” Starmer told co-host Alastair Campbell, former press secretary to Tony Blair, under whose first government DfID was formed.

“Not to see the importance of a department that is focused on fixing some of the global problems that actually unlock a lot of the promise, etc, is, I just think, totally misguided … I think the wrongheadedness of not seeing that as a massive asset is huge.”

NGOs across the board welcomed the commitment.

Kirsty McNeill, executive director of policy, advocacy and campaigns at Save the Children, said: “This is an important announcement from Labour that shows serious thinking about how the UK government can make the biggest difference in tackling global challenges and supporting the poorest and most vulnerable families.

“An independent Department for International Development is not a silver bullet, but the abolition of DfID has reduced the government’s focus on alleviating poverty, made UK aid less transparent and caused the exodus of world-leading expertise from government.”

Danny Sriskandarajah, CEO of Oxfam GB, said: “This is very good news. There is huge value in having a dedicated seat at the cabinet table and a department with dedicated resources and expertise to help the UK play a positive role in addressing rising hunger, inequality, climate breakdown and other global challenges.”

Patrick Watt, chief executive of Christian Aid, also welcomed the move, but added the reversal could not “just be a case of going back to how things were”.

“The UK needs to recognise its historic and current responsibility for helping to end extreme poverty. It needs to demonstrate real commitment in responding to the interlocking global crises of hunger, climate and conflict. The UK must also work with poorer countries to chart a new approach to development and eradicating poverty,” he said.

When he announced the creation of the new “super-department”, the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO), Johnson said it was a key way of bringing UK foreign aid into line with British interests, declaring that “for too long” it had been treated “like a giant cashpoint in the sky”.

However, the merger drew fire from not only the opposition benches but from Johnson’s own party. Former prime minister David Cameron said it would mean “less respect for the UK overseas”. Andrew Mitchell, a former international development secretary, called it an “utterly self-inflicted act of vandalism”.


Lizzy Davies

The GuardianTramp

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