Statement on the merger of DFID and the Foreign Office

Statement from Conciliation Resources, International Alert, Peace Direct and Saferworld concerning the merger of the Department for International Development and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

Yesterday the UK announced the merger of the Department for International Development (DFID) with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO). This move presents real risks but also potential opportunities for the UK’s contribution to reducing conflict and supporting peace overseas.

The COVID-19 crisis is exacerbating conflict and insecurity around the world and the merger risks creating more uncertainty, and undermining the vital work of peacebuilders. The new department must ensure that it preserves DfID’s expertise in long-term conflict prevention, continues its financial support to such efforts and improves how development is reflected and accounted for in the National Security Strategy and cross government structures. If this does not happen we will see the UK’s development capability downgraded and driven by crisis, failing to address deep seated causes of insecurity that affect us globally.

The centrality of overseas development to UK interests has been set out in the Government’s previous national security reviews – with the National Security Capability Review in 2018 noting that "development helps create the foundations for global security and prosperity. As a result, development assistance is an essential part of the UK’s approach to national security".

The new Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office must preserve a strong international development perspective in the National Security Council and the Cabinet Office, where it has been represented by an independent Secretary of State. An independent developmental perspective and expertise must be expanded in the Joint Export Control Unit on arms sales licensing and in parliamentary scrutiny of Overseas Development Assistance and policy on aid, arms and national security following the scrapping of the International Development Committee.

The merger also presents the government with an opportunity to make peacebuilding a central pillar of the new Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office and the policies guiding it. This would maintain the UK’s focus on global conflict prevention, which is the most effective way to deal with the impact of COVID-19 and climate change on conflict. It would also harness the existing co-operation between and expertise within DfID and the FCO on different aspects of peacebuilding and conflict prevention. DfID employs teams of internationally-respected experts, focused specifically on this area. For decades DfID staff have worked to build conditions for peaceful societies around the world. It is in our shared interests that we do not lose this through the merger.

"Evidence shows that prevention is better than cure for violent conflict. Not only is it effective in interrupting violence and preventing its resurgence, it’s efficient in cash terms. It’s why peacebuilding must be at the heart of the new department’s approach - this is one area where we can truly marry our global values with impact and value for money." Mike Young, Chief Executive Officer, International Alert

"If the government is serious about policy making in the national interest, the new departmental set up and the planned Integrated Review should focus on building just and sustainable international peace and security. Having this as a high-level policy objective would improve policy coherence to tackle rising authoritarianism, violent conflict and their impact on development and security." Paul Murphy, Executive Director, Saferworld

"The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the harmful effects of violence, poverty and disease on communities around the world. We are deeply concerned that the loss of DfID will undermine gains in development and peace, diverting vital resources from local peacebuilding efforts. The new Foreign Commonwealth and Development Office must focus on addressing conflict drivers and maximising local ownership." Dylan Mathews, Chief Executive, Peace Direct

"If we want to see benefits from merging diplomacy and development, it is imperative that DfID’s experience and practice of supporting inclusive peace processes remains a priority. Sustainable peace requires long-term and consistent support beyond narrow national interest." Jonathan Cohen, Executive Director, Conciliation Resources