It’s one of the most important jobs in British government.
And after more political drama, it’s changed hands once more: Rory Stewart has now been announced as the new international development secretary, after Penny Mordaunt was made defence secretary after the sacking of Gavin Williamson.
Stewart will lead the Department for International Development (DfID) — and be the man in charge of overseeing the majority of our lifesaving UK aid budget.
That means Stewart inherits the immense responsibility of tackling the shocking inequality that leaves 767 million people living in extreme poverty around the world, officially defined as living on less than $1.90 (£1.50) a day.
Delighted and honoured to be the @DFID_UK Secretary of State— Rory Stewart (@RoryStewartUK) May 1, 2019
The 46-year-old was previously the prisons minister after similar roles covering the environment, development, and justice. He already has loads of experience at DfID, having served under both Penny Mordaunt and Priti Patel — and as a minister of state for Africa at the Foreign Office.
But his work across the world has been so wide-ranging — from writing bestselling books about travelling on foot across countries including Iran and Afghanistan and tutoring Prince William at Harvard University — that Brad Pitt’s production company has even bought the film rights to shoot the biopic of his life.
The Financial Times reports that he even delivered his wife’s baby on their bathroom floor.
“I’m absolutely delighted,” Stewart told Sky News. “I’ve spent a lot of my life working abroad, and particularly in international development. It’s a department I was lucky to serve in for a couple of years — so I know quite a lot about it.”
“Above all I think it’s a chance to engage in some of the most pressing issues in the world,” he added. “Climate change — where DfID is a real leader — with some of the poorest people in the world, with humanitarian emergencies, and getting the balance between the wonderfully charitable, philanthropic instincts of the people in Britain, but also being practical, serious about how we spend our money, making sure we get the best results we possibly can, and that we’re realistic about some of the challenges of the world.”
The shakeup on the Conservative frontbench came after Theresa May sacked defence secretary Gavin Williamson after an alleged leak from a National Security Council meeting regarding a new contract to allow Chinese firm Huawei to help build Britain’s 5G network. Williamson denies the accusations.
Penny Mordaunt is the first woman to ever take up the role of defence secretary.
Britain is legally required to spend 0.7% of its Gross National Income (GNI) on UK aid after David Cameron’s government passed the International Development Act in 2010. It makes the UK a world leader in fighting extreme poverty, with DfID one of the most effective and transparent spenders of aid on the planet.
And Stewart is on the record as a staunch defender of that spending.
“I would resist the idea of changing the aid target because it is important especially as we leave the EU to continue to demonstrate it is a major international player and keep the confidence of the world,” Stewart told BBC Radio 4’s Today Show in February.
Indeed, Stewart appeared on ITV on Thursday morning to discuss his new position with Robert Peston — and defended it yet again.
The UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, also known as the Global Goals, aim to end extreme poverty by 2030. While most eyes in the UK are focused on figuring out our future relationship with the EU, it’s essential that helping the world’s poorest people however we can remains a priority.
Time is of the essence. If we’re going to empower women to take control of their own lives and bodies, vaccinate every child against preventable diseases, or beat climate change — it’s vital that Britain continues to fight on all fronts to tackle the world’s greatest challenges.
Like we said: it’s one the most important job in government.