It was supposed to be a quiet, chilly afternoon of little consequence.
Rumours had been abound all week of a minor reshuffle in the UK cabinet, some tinkering worthy of little fanfare. But as explosive resignations were followed by shock appointments on Thursday, something even more extraordinary happened — and it flew mostly under the radar.
The Department for International Development (DfID) — the custodian of Britain’s lifesaving UK aid budget — had been saved after months during which its very existence seemed in jeopardy.
It was widely reported that a merger was being considered between DfID and the Foreign Office. That sparked serious concern in the UK’s charity sector, because DfID is actually one of the best aid spenders in the world in terms of transparency and accountability.
Merging DfID with another department could have put that excellent track record in jeopardy — diluting the quality of aid spending, and potentially distracting from its true objective: to end extreme poverty through tackling issues like poor education access, gender inequality, and hunger.
Another worry was that DfID might be stripped of its main representative in cabinet instead — the Secretary of State for International Development — which would have dismantled the department’s influence at the heart of government.
But after Global Citizens sent over 10,000 messages to Boris Johnson demanding he keep his promise to maintain an independent DfID, the prime minister has kept the department completely intact.
It even has a new boss to lead a team that has become an essential focal point in the fight to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and end extreme poverty by 2030.
Welcome @AnnieTrev to the most important job in government! 👋👋— Global Citizen UK (@GlblCtznUK) February 13, 2020
We're super excited to work with you — 2020 is a pivotal year if we're going to end extreme poverty in the next decade. Let's go tell the world about the lifesaving power of #UKAid 💕📚 @DFID_UKhttps://t.co/B4H1yo51qW
Conservative MP Anne-Marie Trevelyan takes over from Alok Sharma — who’s been in the role since July 2019 — as DfID’s Secretary of State.
According to Bond, a network of UK charities, Trevelyan has predominantly worked in the Ministry of Defence as under-secretary of state for defence procurement and minister of state for the armed forces. But she’s also reportedly supported development and environmental causes, like the Sing for Syrians concert and giving up plastic for Lent.
However, previous tweets seem to point to some scepticism from Trevelyan on why development is so important. She has previously shared articles that argued against the legal requirement of spending 0.7% of its gross national income (GNI) on UK aid.
UK aid saves a life every two minutes. Since 2015 it has saved the lives of an estimated 990,000 children by providing vaccines against deadly diseases, helped get 14 million kids into school, and provided 33 million people facing disasters with humanitarian assistance.
And congrats to @JamesCleverly on joining the @DFID_UK family! 🙏 We spoke to you about #UKAid not so long ago — and loved what you had to say.— Global Citizen UK (@GlblCtznUK) February 13, 2020
"Aid from countries like Britain is important because it's what great countries do... It's the right thing to do." pic.twitter.com/hiryds85Le
“If we are to realise the government's ambitions of a truly global Britain, how we spend UK aid will matter more than ever, particularly if we are to build a healthier, more sustainable, and more equal planet for us all,” said Bond CEO Stephanie Draper. “This requires an independent DfID with its own secretary of state.”
“To protect the UK’s reputation as a development powerhouse, helping the world’s poorest and most vulnerable people must remain the primary focus of development aid,” she added. “UK aid must also be fully transparent and accountable to the British taxpayer and local communities, meet internationally agreed rules, and remain untied to our strategic and economic interests.”
Former DfID head Alok Sharma hasn’t left the building entirely. The Reading West MP is now leading the Department for Business, Energy, and Industrial Strategy and will head up preparations for COP26 — the biggest conference on the climate crisis since the Paris Agreement in 2015, hosted by the UK government in Glasgow this November.
While Lord Zac Goldsmith, Baroness Elizabeth Sugg, and Lord Tariq Ahmad return to DfID as ministers, new appointments include Wendy Morton, James Duddridge, Nigel Adams, and former Conservative Chairman James Cleverly.
But the fight isn’t quite over. Although DfID remains independent, it’s vital we keep shouting about the brilliant record UK aid has in reducing poverty and tackling inequality around the world.
UK aid has some powerful critics and it’ll take the voices of every single one of us to ensure the department continues to be protected at the highest level.