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UK PM faces backlash over DfID merger which endangers projects across the Middle East

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson leaves No.10 Downing St in London, UK on 10 June 2020 [Ray Tang/Anadolu Agency]
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson leaves No.10 Downing St in London, UK on 10 June 2020 [Ray Tang/Anadolu Agency]

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson is facing a backlash after he announced plans to merge the Department for International Development (DfID) with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) yesterday, sparking fears projects in the Middle East could be endangered, the New Arab reported.

Speaking in the House of Commons yesterday, Johnson claimed the UK's aid decisions were outdated, based on a post-Cold War era and needed modernising.

The British PM cited large disparities in aid to African nations, who receive large sums of money, compared to Eastern European states, who are given a fraction of the amount, while protecting their borders with Russia.

Johnson said merging the departments to create the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office will "unite our aid in our diplomacy and bring them together in our international effort" and called the move a "big step forward for global Britain".

However, the merger means £14.5 million ($18 million) of the UK's foreign aid budget will now be allotted to recipients by the FCO, rather than by the DfID, meaning aid used for humanitarian causes could face cuts.

The UK currently supports projects across Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, Morocco, Lebanon and Jordan, targeted at wealth creation and sustainable growth. DfID also runs a programme in Syria and Turkey as a humanitarian response to the ongoing civil war.

READ: Israel appoints pro-settler right-winger as new UK ambassador

A statement from the Chief Executive of Save the Children, Kevin Watkins, called the move "a flawed decision that flies in the face of commitments made in the government's manifesto".

During the biggest humanitarian crisis in a century, when the Covid-19 pandemic is reversing hard won gains in child and maternal health, education, and poverty, this is a baffling and deeply damaging move.

The idea for merging the two departments was discussed as early as 2017 when the integrity of aid decisions was called into question after it was revealed Priti Patel, then Secretary of State for International Development, had held unauthorised meetings with Israeli officials.

According to reports at the time, Patel, and other staff at the DfID, were asked to explore cooperation with the Israeli army for ostensibly humanitarian operations in the occupied Golan Heights.

The merger has also garnered condemnation from both sides of parliament, with Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer saying there was "no rationale" for the move, besides to "deflect attention" from the government's handling of the global pandemic.

Starmer has said he would re-instate the independence of the DfID if elected prime minister.

DfID was initially created by Harold Wilson's Labour government in 1964 and was made independent from the FCO in 1997 by Tony Blair.

READ: Saudi thanks UK for military, defence support

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