UK’s Boris Johnson targets Department of International Development in civil service shake-up

The plan is just one in a series of radical changes being floated in a civil service overhaul masterminded by Mr Johnson’s adviser Dominic Cummings

COUNTY DURHAM, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 14: UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson gestures as he speaks to supporters on a visit to meet newly elected Conservative party MP for Sedgefield, Paul Howell at Sedgefield Cricket Club on December 14, 2019 in County Durham, England. Following his Conservative party's general election victory, Prime Minister Boris Johnson called on Britons to put years of bitter divisions over the country's EU membership behind them as he vowed to use his resounding election victory to finally deliver Brexit next month. (Photo by Lindsey Parnaby - WPA Pool/Getty Images)

The British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has raised the prospect of folding the UK Department of International Development (DFID) into the country’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO).

The plan is one in a raft of overarching reforms proposed to the British civil service, spearheaded by Mr Johnson’s chief special advisor Dominic Cummings. Before he joined the government, Mr Cummings had railed against what he described as outdated and wasteful practices in the civil service.

Also in the pipeline is a possible merger of the UK’s Department for International Trade with the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy to focus on global trade in post-Brexit Britain.

Mr Cummings, who has been credited as one of the key orchestrators of the Conservative Party’s overwhelming election victory as well as the mastermind behind the campaign for Britain to leave the EU, has also put the UK’s Ministry of Defence in his sights.

Dominic Cummings, senior advisor to Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson stands in Downing Street in London as Boris Johnson arrives to speak, on Friday, Dec. 13, 2019. Boris Johnson's gamble on early elections paid off as voters gave the UK prime minister a commanding majority to take the country out of the European Union by the end of January, a decisive result after more than three years of stalemate over Brexit. (AP Photo/Alberto Pezzali)

According to The Times, the senior Downing Street advisor will look to address military procurement as a priority in 2020 and tackle the purchase of costly military equipment at the department he has criticised in the past for "disastrous" practices.

Individuals close to the prime minister reportedly want development spending, under the purview of DFID, to be directed towards serving wider foreign policy goals. Mr Johnson, who before the election was more dependent on the right-wing of his party, had consistently seen off designs from the less moderate elements to scrap a legal commitment to 0.7 per cent spending of GDP on overseas aid.

Hugh Lovatt, a policy fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations, told The National that, at first glance, the plans sound similar to those proposed by the US government as it folds USAID into the State Department.

“The Trump administration has increasingly used foreign aid as a way to leverage countries to toe the line,” he said.

Former ministers at DFID have warned against subsuming it under the FCO.  Andrew Mitchell, who served under former Prime Minister David Cameron in the role, called the department “the most effective and respected engine of development anywhere in the world and a huge soft-power asset for Britain”.

"Forty-eight hours into government I do not want to start a row, but my advice would be not to merge DFID," Alistair Burt, the former minister of state for international development, told The Guardian newspaper.

Professor John Bew, a foreign policy expert, who joined the 10 Downing Street policy unit in 2019, is also involved in the re-think on the future of the UK’s place in the world both in terms of international and defence policy. An advocate of the Atlantic alliance between the US and the UK and an admirer of former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, Mr Bew has been deeply critical of the EU’s efforts to realign itself away from the United States. He has argued the move undermines the Nato alliance.