U.K.'s Foreign Office and Department for International Development to Merge in New Department

U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson has announced that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office will merge with the Department for International Development (DfID) in a surprise statement to the Commons.

He told fellow members of Parliament that "distinctions between diplomacy and overseas development are artificial and outdated" and that now was the perfect time to do so, in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic.

The new department, the Foreign Commonwealth and Development Office, will be headed up by current Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab and will see the two current departments merge.

"For too long, Britain's aid has been seen as a giant cashpoint in the sky without any reference to the U.K. interests or to the values that the U.K. wishes to express or the priorities, diplomatic, political or commercial of the government of the U.K.," the prime minister said.

Johnson said that the current overseas aid budget - 0.7 percent of GDP - would be maintained and ringfenced to make sure it is spent on aid.

He said that the merger would mean that the U.K. will have a "better, more powerful, more positive voice".

It is widely rumored that this move has been in the works for a while, with most ministers working between the two departments.

Reacting to the statement, Labour Party leader Keir Starmer said that "We should see this statement for what it is: the tactics of pure diversion" and that DfID is one of the most respected departments anywhere in the world.

Boris Johnson in House of Commons
Boris Johnson said that now was the perfect time to merge departments House of Commons

Starmer said that he was "skeptical" that funding levels to overseas aid would be maintained.

He also quoted Andrew Mitchell, a Conservative and the former international development secretary, about his view on the plans.

"Abolishing DfID would be a quite extraordinary mistake," Mitchell said, as reported by the Birmingham Mail.

"First it would destroy one of the most effective and respected engines of international development anywhere in the world.

"Second many of the senior figures who are key to Britain's role as a development superpower will likely leave and go elsewhere in the international system - at a stroke destroying a key aspect of Global Britain.

"Third it is completely unnecessary as the prime minister exercises full control over DfID's strategy and priorities through the National Security Council."

Scottish National Party (SNP) leader Ian Blackford echoed Starmer's comments, questioning the timing and secrecy of the announcement.

"[Boris Johnson is] using the cover of a pandemic to rip apart the U.K.'s structures for international development and humanitarian aid," he said.

"At a time when we should be standing with the world's poorest, acting as a beacon of hope, the prime minister is playing politics.

"Let me be clear, the government are blatantly using challenging domestic circumstances as an excuse to wind down essential aid for the world's poorest. This is shameful and is not in our name."

Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab, who will be the politician in charge of the new department, tweeted how proud he was of the work that had been done and that it can now be even better.

"UK Aid is a shining example of #GlobalBritain at work giving us strengths and expertise to tackle the world's biggest problems. Combining the assets of DFID and FCO under one roof will be an even stronger force for good in the world," he tweeted.

"I will work closely with [DfID Secretary Anne-Marie Trevelyan] to oversee merger of two departments over the summer building on our existing joint working. UK Aid will be at the centre of what we do – we aren't rolling back on our commitments to international development including 0.7 of GDP.

"DFID officials have done fantastic, life-changing work from tackling disease and hunger across 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.

"The pandemic has shown security, prosperity, development and foreign policy are inextricably interlinked. These changes mean the UK will be best placed to lead the international effort on COVID recovery and renewal."