Boris Johnson has been condemned by three former prime ministers after unveiling plans to scrap the UK Government department responsible for international aid.
Mr Johnson told MPs that by combining the Department for International Development (Dfid) and the Foreign Office the UK could “unite our aid with our diplomacy”.
He said the “long overdue reform” would ensure “maximum value” for taxpayers.
But former Tory prime minister David Cameron warned the move would mean “less voice for development at the top table and ultimately less respect for the UK overseas”.
Ex-Labour prime ministers Gordon Brown and Tony Blair also hit out, Blair saying the decision was “wrong and regressive” and Brown stating: Brown said: “It’s sad the government is abolishing one of the UK’s great international assets.”
The Prime Minister is right to maintain the commitment to 0.7 – it saves lives, promotes a safer world and builds British influence. But the decision to merge the departments is a mistake. 1/2
— David Cameron (@David_Cameron) June 16, 2020
It is understood ministers are aiming to set up the new joint department – known as the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office – by September.
Announcing the policy Mr Johnson said: ““Dfid outspends the Foreign Office more than four times over. And yet no single decision maker in either department is able to unite our efforts, or take a comprehensive overview.”
He added: “Faced with this crisis today, and the opportunities that lie ahead, We have a responsibility to ask whether our current arrangements, dating back to 1997, still maximise British influence.”
Scottish international development minister Jenny Gilruth MSP said the act was “deplorable” and called on Mr Johnson to confirm that the 600 jobs at a Dfid site in East Kilbride would remain.
Tony Blair: “I am utterly dismayed by the decision to abolish DFID. We created DFID in 1997 to play a strong, important role in projecting British soft power. It has done so to general global acclaim. (1/3)
— Tony Blair Institute (@InstituteGC) June 16, 2020
She said: “We urge the UK Government to reverse its decision, to protect the jobs at Dfid in Scotland and to ensure that UK aid is free from political influence.”
Mr Johnson said the UK Government would “ensure that we keep that investment in East Kilbride”
The announcement came as Michael Gove faced accusations in the Commons that the UK Government had ignored calls from the Scottish Government to extend the Brexit transition period.
SNP Brexit spokesman Pete Wishart accused the Cabinet Office minister of “totally and contemptuously” ignoring concerns that a deal may not be reached before the end of the transition in December.
“He (Mr Gove) treated the devolved governments with such disdain that they felt there was no longer any point engaging, they decided they would be better off washing their overabundant collective hair than listen to this government again, telling them what they should do and what to think around their chaotic Brexit plans”, he said.
Mr Wishart went on to say that Mr Gove has, with his pursual of Brexit, “made the single biggest contribution to the cause of independence in Scotland”
SNP's Pete Wishart tells Michael Gove he has, more than any other senior Tory, 'made the single biggest contribution to the cause of Scottish independence' with his pursual of Brexit – 'we salute him today', he adds that a statue of Gove will be going up in Aberdeen harbour pic.twitter.com/FLwqVfPs5n
— Dan O'Donoghue (@MrDanDonoghue) June 16, 2020
He said: “For all of us that support independence column, we salute him. I’m sure a statute will soon be commissioned in Aberdeen harbour”.
Mr Gove thanked Mr Wishart for a “gallimaufry of mixed metaphors” and said he would be “delighted to be carved in marble, bronze or whatever is the appropriate material anywhere in Scotland”.
He added: “As long as his smiling features gaze on us, we know that the union is safe, we know that the cause of Scottish independence, despite the ardour with which he puts his case, will sadly not prevail intellectually, morally, economically, or politically.”
Mr Gove went on to say that there had been “extensive engagement” with the devolved governments on Brexit.
“I hope that his colleagues in the Scottish Government will continue, as they have for most of this year, to engage in the constructive fashion for which they’re well known in making sure the interests of every citizen of the United Kingdom is protected”, he said.