DFID and Brexit: worrying times for our sector

DFID and Brexit: worrying times for our sector

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By Jane Salmonson, Alliance CEO

In these very worrying times, it is reassuring to read the letter of 10 January 2019 from the Secretary of State for International Development to Stephen Twigg MP, Chair of the influential International Development Committee at Westminster.  Rumours abound of a merging of DFID into the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, or even of the complete disbandment of the department... 

I hope that a recent leak from a Cabinet meeting is fake news and that there was not really a presentation from our Secretary of State to fellow Cabinet members about the unsustainability of 0.7% in its present form and about the potential to allocate costs of military missions on humanitarian grounds to the aid budget. 

The last two decades give vivid illustrations of the fluid nature of the definition of ‘humanitarian’ military interventions, notably the (then) Defence Secretary John Reid’s assertion that British troops would be sent into Helmand and leave again ‘without a shot being fired.’

Politics is moving very fast.  The reassurance offered by the Secretary of State’s letter to Stephen Twigg may only be of limited and short-lived benefit. The Sunday Telegraph of 3 February reports that Penny Mordaunt has drawn up proposals to use the Aid programme to provide professional training in fields such accounting and project management for teenagers in this country. If the current government survives but with different leadership, any future for aid and development is possible. 

The only grounds for reassurance that I can foresee derive from two dates likely to be important to the UK Government:

  • In 2020, our Voluntary National Review will have been published and we are likely to want to proclaim on a world stage our contribution to meeting the Sustainable Development Goals.  As we approach the ten year countdown to 2030, this will focus many minds. 
  • In 2021, we host the G7.  How can we demonstrate any kind of international leadership with our peers in that forum?

A year ago, Penny Mordaunt wrote: ‘Britain is a development superpower (…) and should be a source of uncontroversial national pride.’  It would be excellent if she were to re-state that belief now, today, for us to read in headline form in the national press, and on social media.  Could we see the Secretary of State’s support shouted out with pride and not restricted to a letter to the International Development Committee, far from the gaze of the general public?   

If humanitarianism is not to become a victim to a rising tide of xenophobic, inward-looking nationalism in the UK, proudly proclaimed support from our political leaders of all political persuasions and sides of the Brexit debate, is a must.