July 13, 2020


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Combining diplomacy and development will make UK aid’s work even better | Anne-Marie Trevelyan

I have seen the enormous difference made UK aid during my time as international development secretary. The UK is rightly respected and admired around the world for this work, which saves and changes lives in developing countries every day.

The power of our commitment to spend 0.7% of our gross national income on aid – and our expertise in this field – will not diminish when the Department for International Development (DfID) merges with the Foreign Office in September. The prime minister has made it crystal clear that UK aid’s mission to reduce poverty will be central to the new department’s mission.

My colleague Dominic Raab said last week creating a new Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office is “about placing our world-class aid programme at the beating heart of our foreign policy decision making”.

The Covid-19 pandemic is a timely example of why now – more than ever – foreign policy and aid objectives need to be joined up. This government sees an ambitious vision for the future of the UK as an active, internationalist, problem-solving and burden-sharing nation. This will help us lead the way in tackling challenges, like stopping this disease.

The UK-hosted global vaccine summit earlier this month is a prime example of what we, as a country, can achieve when we lead from the front. The summit brought together more than 50 countries. It smashed its funding target, raising $8.8bn (£7.12bn) to help vaccinate people against a range of preventable diseases and prepare for the global distribution of a safe, effective coronavirus vaccine once one is developed.

The new department will build on the brilliant work DfID already does on summits like this with partners across Whitehall.

UK aid’s partnership with the British military is one of the biggest strengths in our humanitarian work. It’s a great example of how joined-up government can deliver even better results for the poorest people. In April, the Royal Navy dispatched the ship RFA Argus to the Caribbean to help British Overseas Territories deal with Covid-19. On Saturday, an R plane carrying a field hospital belonging to the World Food Programme, funded the UK, is due to fly from Brize Norton in Oxfordshire to Ghana to be used in the fight against coronavirus.

The UK is one of the largest humanitarian donors in the world. I would like this world-leading humanitarian work to be a key focus of the new department. It should be a crucial part of its DNA. The UK is an outward-looking country that wants to make a difference in the world – and many Britons see it as their moral duty to help those in need. It is no exaggeration to say that it is one of our national characteristics.

Yes, the new department’s guiding purpose will be to promote the UK’s national interest around the world. But ours is a broad view of the national interest. It is based on values as much as it is on our core interests of security and prosperity. The UK stands for openness and democracy, alongside poverty reduction and supporting the vulnerable, because this is the best route to lasting stability and growth.

In the real world you cannot separate diplomacy and development as you pursue these interests and values. Combining the two will make our work, including our humanitarian work, even better.

Australia, Canada and New Zealand have all made a similar move. In the UK it will create a department, which has the combination of size, reach and expertise to project us effectively internationally and make sure that we spend our development money in the best possible way. The UK is globally recognised for its expertise and transparency in aid spending. The new department will put that expertise and commitment to transparency at the heart of its work to deliver aid to some of the world’s poorest people.

While news of the merger has been tough on staff and has led to questions among NGOs, I am confident we will retain the talent of our aid experts, who are the best in the world. These exceptional staff will be at the heart of the new department – taking forward the work of UK aid, as it remains central to our international policy.

I have no doubt the new foreign, commonwealth and development office will deliver the UK’s ambitious international agenda. We are, and always have been, a bold and confident nation, unafraid to stand up for what we believe in. I see our development expertise working together with the best of British diplomacy as continuing squarely in that great tradition.

Anne-Marie Trevelyan is the UK’s international development secretary

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