Raab launches Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office

2 September 2020, 00:41 | Updated: 2 September 2020, 21:52

The new department will aim to tackle global famines and the coronavirus pandemic
The new department will aim to tackle global famines and the coronavirus pandemic. Picture: PA
Nick Hardinges

By Nick Hardinges

Dominic Raab has launched the controversial new Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office aimed at tackling global famine and the coronavirus pandemic.

The foreign secretary announced an investment of £119 million that will go towards fighting extreme hunger in developing nations as he took charge of the new department on Wednesday.

It comes amid concerns there will be cuts to the aid budget and following the government's contentious decision to axe the Department for International Development.

Merging the bureau with the Foreign Office brought widespread condemnation from charities and three former prime ministers, who argued it would hit the world's poorest people hardest.

However, Mr Raab has promised to use diplomacy and the UK aid budget to assuage the impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic, global conflicts and climate change.

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He said in a statement: "Global Britain, as a force for good in the world, is leading by example and bringing the international community together to tackle these deadly threats, because it's the right thing to do and it protects British interests.

"We can only tackle these global challenges by combining our diplomatic strength with our world-leading aid expertise."

The £119 million, which will come from the country's existing budget, will go towards alleviating extreme hunger for more than six million people in the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Sahel, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan and Yemen.

The foreign secretary did not mention the aid budget in his statement following reports the government is considering cuts.

A number of Conservative MPs have reacted angrily to the possibility that ministers might reduce or axe the 0.7% of the UK's gross national income spent on overseas aid.

However, on Tuesday, Downing Street rubbished these reports as "speculation".

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"There is no change with regard to the commitment on 0.7%," the Prime Minister Boris Johnson's official spokesman said.

Nevertheless, there are still concerns among Tories, including former international development secretary Andrew Mitchell, who said: "With the ink hardly dry on our manifesto, I don't think the House of Commons would easily agree to balance the books on the backs of the poorest women and children in the world."

Tory chairman of the Commons defence committee Tobias Ellwood said the cut would be "shortsighted in failing to appreciate how well-targeted aid can strengthen relationships and open up new markets - thus helping the Treasury".

Following the merger, former international development secretary Anne-Marie Trevelyan has returned to the backbenchers, with No 10 confirming she would be entitled to a pay-off because of the closure of her department.

Former Conservative prime minister David Cameron previously warned the merger was a "mistake" and that it would result in the UK commanding "less respect" on the global stage.

Tony Blair, the Labour former prime minister, whose administration created the department in 1997, said he was "utterly dismayed" by Mr Johnson's decision to axe it.