Andrew Mitchell was International Development Secretary from 2010 to 2012. He is the MP for Sutton Coldfield.
When David Cameron and I set up Project Umubano, the Conservative party’s social action project in Rwanda in 2007, we did it in part to signal a new era for the Conservative party and international development.
No longer would we be suspicious about it. We wanted to reform it certainly, make it more effective, and more accountable. We wanted to enthusiastically embrace an outward looking agenda, deliver value for money and make sure that every hard-earned pound achieved 100 pence of results on the ground.
We made clear that unlike previous Tory governments, the next one would keep DfID as a stand-alone department. Michael Howard had previously made clear while he was leader that he would support the 0.7 commitment which the Prime Minister has reaffirmed today.
Project Umubano ensured that there will be a group of people within the Conservative Party who understood international development because they had seen what works and what does not work at the sharp end.
Over the last 30 years the Department for International Development has become one of the most respected examples of Global Britain around the world. Set up by Labour but overhauled and reformed under the Conservatives in 2010, it is widely seen as the most effective engine of international development in the world.
It is seldom a good sign when Governments decide to tinker with the Whitehall architecture – especially in the middle of the worst crisis our country has faced for a generation. It also looks as if the cart is being put before the horse since the security and defence review, which is so important to charting Britain’s future within the world post-Brexit, is only at its opening stages.
But on the face of it, it would also seem to be unnecessary. Under David Cameron it was the National Security Council which set the strategic direction for government and for DfID. The National Security Council is the place where defence, diplomacy, and development are wired together in a comprehensive policy for Britain. Chaired by Boris Johnson, it is where he is able to review and decide Britain’s strategic direction.
Within DfID there are many extremely able civil servants, who work there because DfID is acknowledged to be an international leader. With DfID dismantled and no longer a stand-alone department, those same people will be poached by the international system. Alas, Geneva and New York’s gain will be Global Britain’s loss.