You are here: UNA-UK's response to the announcement of the intention to merge the Foreign Office and Department for International Development

16 June 2020

UNA-UK was dismayed to hear that the Government intends to prejudge its own integrated review process and declare its intention to merge the Department for International Development and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office months before the review is due to begin.

Lord Wood of Anfield, Chair of the United Nations Association - UK, said:

"The UK Development Sector is key to our country's standing internationally and at the United Nations. It is important that it be treated with great care, and it is therefore worrying to see an announcement be made like this seemingly without meaningful consultation or regard for a broader strategy. The UK's integrated review of its development, defence and foreign policy is due to start in the autumn; it would have been sensible to wait until it had concluded before making a decision of this magnitude."

For many years UNA-UK has argued that a strategic and integrated foreign, security and defence policy is essential - and that the public should have an opportunity to provide input. This is not only a moral matter but a practical one. 

Public engagement is a vital element of national security. This cannot be confined to issues such as responding to hazards and preventing radicalisation. It must involve creating buy-in for the vision and policies set out. Over time, public disengagement can become a security risk by leading to polarisation, disaffection or, more simply, widespread public apathy. Conversely, an informed and engaged public is a security asset that can support resilience at the community level and actively participate in decisions put to them on the UK’s future. The past weeks and months have underscored how important this is.

For this reason, we were pleased to see the government announce the long overdue integrated review process and have been pushing to ensure the maximum possible amount of public engagement through it.

For the Government now to undercut its review by announcing such a significant decision before the review has begun raises serious questions about its objectives.

While large sections of the charitable sector have expressed opposition to this sort of merger, UNA-UK has sought to maintain an open mind. On the one hand, we share the concerns of our colleagues on the impact that this could have on UK development spending, the second highest globally, which has improved outcomes for people around the world by providing education, vaccines and livelihoods. As our research has demonstrated, the manner in which the UK undertakes international development is also a major element of its power and standing in the world. We also have concerns regarding the potential impacts on the ability of the FCO to take a principled stance on human rights if it is also required to deliver development services. On the other hand, we recognise the potential benefits of closer integration, and have indeed called for it in relation to arms control and atrocity prevention. Experiences of merging development and diplomacy from around the world are mixed.

However, the manner in which this proposal is being put forward now does not inspire confidence that due care has been given to its consequences. 

To be successful, such a merger would have to give proper regard to wider strategic considerations, the potential impacts listed above, and the concerns of the aid and NGO sector, with which both DFID and the FCO work closely. It would have to follow widespread consultations with a large number of stakeholders and experts. 

Such a process could have occurred as part of the integrated review, but as this decision was made before the review has begun, we have grave concerns.

Photo: DFID/UKAID shipment of aid to Syria in 2015 Credit: DFID