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The Department for International Development (DFID) was created as a stand-alone government department with cabinet rank by the new Labour Government in 1997. It replaced the Overseas Development Administration, which was part of the Foreign Office. When in opposition, Labour had argued that development policy should not be treated as a subset of foreign policy. The Labour Government went on to make prioritising poverty-reduction DFID’s legal obligation in the 2002 International Development Act.

The Conservatives opposed the creation of DFID in 1997, arguing that development and foreign policy cannot and should not be separated in this way. However, by the time the Conservatives took office as the largest party in the 2010-15 Coalition Government, it had changed its view. Then, in 2015, a private members bill which made meeting the UN’s 0.7% aid target a legal obligation was enshrined in law with that government’s support.

 At the 2017 general election, the Conservative Party resisted calls from a minority within its ranks to disband DFID and reiterated its support for the 0.7% aid target.  But there have been renewed calls since then by some Conservative MPs, many of them looking ahead to a post-Brexit ‘Global Britain’ (which is the current Conservative Government’s own slogan), to revisit or even abandon these pledges in the party’s next election manifesto. This has in turn triggered alarm on the part of those who back DFID’s continued existence and the 0.7% aid target, which includes many opposition parties in the UK Parliament and UK-based international development groups.

The position of the Government remains that it has no plans to disband DFID or abandon the 0.7% aid target. But it has acknowledged the legitimacy of public concern about the effectiveness and impact of some UK aid. It has also sought successfully to revise the OECD’s rules on what counts as aid to incorporate activities – for example, in the area of peace and security – that in the past could not be included as part of the 0.7% target.


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