« | »


IDJ English – IDJ Report

Why did the U.K. Merge DFID and FCO?

The pursuit of National Interests while Facing an Economic Crisis

On the 17th of June 2020, UK Prime Minister, Boris Jonson, announced the merger of the Department for International Development (DFID) and the Department for Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO). The new Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) was established in early September.  Following the integration of the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) and the Australian Aid (AusAID) into the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, this move marks the end of the UK model, which is responsible for the planning and implementation of development cooperation policies. What does the integration of DFID and the change in UK’s development cooperation mean for global trends?


Ideas of a “Global Britain” after BREXIT

As many expected DFID to play a leading role in the COVID-19 crisis battle in developing countries, this merger announcement came as a surprise. However, the decision itself, apparently, was not out of the blue. PM Johnson had openly campaigned for this merger since 2016, when he was the Foreign Secretary in former PM Theresa May’s government. Thus, many considered the merger to be a matter of time since Johnson was elected Prime Minister in December, 2019. “When the Johnson government was inaugurated, it was thought that such integration would be a high possibility,” says Ryutaro Murotani, director of the International Assistance and Coordination Planning Office, Planning Department, Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA).

It is believed that now PM Johnson has achieved his long-time ambition, he is planning to channel the UK’s ODA to areas that are directly connected to the security and national interests of the UK through the new FCDO.  Indeed, in announcing the integration, PM Johnson has posed the question: Why should the ODA size to maintain Ukrainian security, which is a key factor in peace and stability across Europe, be the same as the support for Zambia? This question suggests that the PM is likely to prioritize regions and sectors directly linked to UK security in future ODA projects.

 Dr. Takashi Karasawa, an Emeritus Professor of Ritsumeikan University, observes this merger and domestic administrative reform as being a part of the UK government’s strategy to pursue the idea of a “Global Britain”. This idea was created by the former PM May’s government, after the referendum in 2016, which decided to leave the European Union (EU).The idea is a future concept of the UK once outside of the EU, rebuilding bilateral relationships with countries such as the US, Japan and the members of the former Commonwealth of Nations, and taking the lead in the rule-based international order not only in Europe, but also in the Asia Pacific and Northern America. Karasawa points out that the Johnson government intends to integrate the DFID’s budget, which was 4 times bigger than that of the FCO, toward diplomacy and national trading so that it will work efficiently in serving the UK’s national interests as well as covering the pursuit of the idea of a “Global Britain”.

This swing to a more national-interest-oriented aid policy has been met by many objections, including open criticisms from 3 former prime ministers. David Cameron has stated that this merger would only lead to “less respect for the UK’s overseas presence”. Many NGOs, think-tanks and research institutions have also expressed their concerns with this increased emphasis on the pursuit of national interests. However, it is questionable as to whether this “swing” could be stated as a recent phenomenon because there seems to have been a leaning towards national interests for some time.


National interest authorized GNI 0.7%

DFID, which used to be an external agency of the FCO, was established in 1997 as an independent ministry to take charge of policy planning and implementation for development cooperation. With the sole purpose of reducing poverty, it was committed to free and “flagless” financial support, and has set out its own innovative development cooperation policy, such as prohibiting any “tied-in programs”. This “British model” had a great impact on other Western countries and international organizations such as the World Bank, establishing a global trend. Under such circumstances, development cooperation methods that differed from this British model, such as Japan’s “face-to-face assistance” through infrastructure development, have been strongly criticized by Western donors, mainly in the UK.

However, since around 2010, the global development trend has once again taken on the appearance of pursuing national interests. Part of this is due to the global financial crisis of 2008, said Dr. David Harris, a senior lecturer at the University of Bradford in the UK. In fact, due to the financial crisis and the subsequent European debt crisis, total ODA spending in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) Development Assistance Committee (DAC) member countries, which had been on the rise since 1997, decreased in 2011. In addition to this reduction, Harris believes that the rise of narrative in donor countries demanding the pursuit of national interests in development cooperation is also a major factor.

In Japan, the ODA budget, itself, has been sluggish since 2000 but the financial crisis did not reduce the amount as much as in Western countries. However, the “Development Cooperation Charter” decided by the Cabinet in 2015, clearly mentioned pursuing national interests.

The UK, exceptionally, is one of the few countries that did not reduce their ODA spending, despite the detrimental impact of the financial crisis. Moreover, they managed to increase it. In 2013, it achieved the international commitment agreed at the United Nations General Assembly in 1970 to “raise the amount of ODA expenditures of each country to 0.7% of the gross national income (GNI).”

On the other hand, the Conservative Party administration at that time advocated development cooperation that contributes to national interests in 2010. In 2015, they announced a new ODA strategy “UK aid: tackling global challenges in the national interest” that deviated from the original idea of establishing DFID by clearly stating “national interests” in the title. The strategy states throughout the text that “development cooperation in developing countries will strengthen the UK’s security and contribute to economic development.”

Interestingly, in the same year, the UK government was the only one in the world to legislate 0.7% of GNI for ODA budgets by law. It is said that there was no big opposition from the parliament and the public, but some take the view that the new policy of pursuing national interests justified and backed up this legislation.

“In the UK, the concept of ‘development cooperation’ is widely supported. But the form of development cooperation supported by the people and the government changes with social conditions,” says Harris. “Looking back on history, now we are suffering from the COVID-19 crisis, it is understandable that the tendency to pursue national interests would speed up. ”

As a post COVID-19 recession is expected that would even exceed the 2008 financial crisis, there is concern that the UK government will reduce its ODA budget to less than 0.7% of GNI.  Still, those that have long observed the UKs aid strategies predict that the “0.7% standard” is most likely going to be adhered to, at least on record.  This may include the negotiations concerning statistical methods with the UN and other multilateral programs to review UKs contributions of ODA spending.


A Chance to Respond to the Era of SDGs

Twenty-three years since DFID was established, the definition of aid has been constantly changing, and it is no longer the same as in 1997.  Even so, this merger may be a turning point as it has been made clear that the UK has decided to let go of the symbol of “autonomy from national interests”, and thus, disappointment is understandable.  However, it could be argued that this merger is an opportunity to open up new methods of aid implementation by the UK government.

Sir Paul Collier, an adviser to the current Foreign Minister, Dominic Raab, (the new FCDO Minister), is critical of traditional DFID aid implementation, concentrating on grant aid programs and funding through NGOs.

“These methods have not only been ineffective in fundamentally solving poverty but also extremely patronizing”, explains Collier. He also says, “new approaches are needed. We need to enable new forms of aid projects that are more timely and fitting”.

One of the better, more timely forms of development that Collier sees is the promotion of private investment. The setting of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in 2015, has boosted the mobilization of private funds. The US establishing the United States International Development Finance Corporation (USDFC), which merged departments of the Overseas Private Investment Company (OPIC) and the Agency for International Development (USAID) in 2018, is also a part of this trend.  Collier argues that the UK should also support development of new private companies through the Commonwealth Development Corporation (CDC) via development cooperation from the new ministry.

Dr. Karasawa also thinks that this merger is a chance for positive change. He believes it is an opportunity for the UK’s new, post-BREXIT diplomacy to incorporate “global interests” at its core, with the knowledge, networks, experience and, most importantly, the enthusiasm for common good brought in by the former DFID staff.  He also points out that it is not only the UK but other countries. Japan included, is in need for change on how it conducts foreign policies and build new relationships with partner countries in the Post COVID-19 world.  Thus, new departments such as the FCDO would be a good opportunity to collaborate and seek new methods and trends.

Facing the changes brought up by the COVID-19 pandemic and other shifts in international politics, the world that we have known has been shaken to its very core. A new era may be dawning in which Japan, the UK and other countries are seeking new forms of international relationships, hand-in-hand, that incorporate global wellness in terms of both aid and diplomatic policies. (Natsu Kimura)


International Development Journal  2020 September edition































Comment & Trackback

Comments and Trackback are closed.

No comments.

Positive SSL Wildcard