26 Jan The UK Foreign Secretary’s Evidence to the International Development Committee: 10 Things We Learned
On 26 January 2021, the UK’s Foreign Secretary, Dominic Raab, appeared before the International Development Committee, as part of his brief covering the former Department for International Development (DFID), which is now merged into the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO). The Committee continues to provide scrutiny of the UK’s aid and development activities within the FCDO, alongside the Foreign Affairs Select Committee.
This is likely to be one of the Foreign Secretary’s final major committee appearances ahead of the scheduled publication of the HMG Integrated Review of Defence, Security, Development and Foreign Policy, and provides some indications of the framing of the ‘force for good’ agenda within the Review, and also the synergies the Foreign Secretary has identified as part of his remit overseeing the merger of two of the UK’s primary internationally facing departments. Here are 10 things we learned:
1. The Foreign Secretary see the integration agenda as central to the UK’s competitive advantage in foreign policy. The Foreign Secretary said has “always been a believer in aid” but is focused on “how do we get the most out of that” and how integration enhances effectiveness. As an example, he highlighted the link between aid and development investment, and conflict and security management.
2. He is convinced the DFID-FCO merger has raised the profile and impact of the UK’s development investment, with dividends for the UK’s soft power. The Foreign Secretary regards aid as an essential “part of the toolkit” of driving a more effective foreign policy, and a crucial source of influence in promoting the UK’s reputation as a “force for good in the world”.
3. HMG’s financial situation is compelling tough choices for the Global Britain agenda. The Foreign Secretary acknowledged the potential for over-reach in the Global Britain agenda. He noted that the Integrated Review needs to not only present a vision, but to “give ambitions focus” so “we don’t spread ourselves too thin”. Dominic Raab explained that the pandemic has sharpened minds to identify the department’s priorities, and highlighted the impact of the coronavirus on the developing world – and its compound impacts on other existing risks – and action on climate change, as two areas of focus.
4. The Foreign Secretary is aware of the need to keep morale high in the midst of the reduction in the 0.7% commitment, and is trying to impose a strategic framework around the implementation of the cuts. Dominic Raab said he “doesn’t recognise” the 50-70% cuts figure being reported in the media, but acknowledges “there are no easy choices across the public service” in the current environment. He emphasised that the UK’s £10 billion spend is still one of the most significant, but that there was a need to be “disciplined”. Raab noted that he is attempting to create a “smarter” and more “positive” process of determining the reductions by prioritising activities, rather than “salami slicing”.
5. There are no clear thresholds or tests that will determine when the UK will resume its 0.7% commitment. The Foreign Secretary explained that it will be a combination of “art and science” guiding the decision, with considerations around both the domestic situation and the international landscape. Dominic Raab specifically highlighted the rebounding of the economy as an important measure, but there are “no precise metrics” to work towards as it will be a “balanced judgment”.
6. The Foreign Secretary is unconvinced the UK’s reputation has been damaged by the reduction in our aid spending target. Dominic Raab fiercely defended the notion that the UK’s global standing has been harmed by the decision taken to reduce the 0.7% commitment, and pointed to public opinion polling around the world, which indicated that young people in particular continue to hold favourable impressions of the UK. He urged against the temptation of self-flagellation, emphasising that “our stock is extremely high” and our “reputation is absolutely stellar” – partly as a result of the UK’s unique combination as a free trading, open and transparent, and morally robust global actor.
7. Britain will be positioning itself as a global mediator and constructive leader. In part because of his working history, the Foreign Secretary is personally invested in the framing of Britain as a “problem-solving” nation with particular expertise in “conflict management”.
8. There will be a big development story at the heart of the UK’s climate change leadership and the COP26 conference. The Foreign Secretary wants the UK to start a “virtuous circle” of momentum on climate change around the world, and is working “hand in hand” with Alok Sharma, the UK’s COP26 lead. He drew a link between the UK’s development partnerships and our capacity to influence, as climate action will need to be an “inclusive process”, with Britain acting as “brokers” to help forge compromises and commitments.
9. Girls’ education and security will be central to the UK’s development priorities. The Johnson Government has made girls’ education a priority area for its aid and development investment but the Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict Initiative (PSVI), which commenced under Lord Hague in 2014, has received less attention. The Foreign Secretary today committed to advancing both of these issues as part of the UK’s G7 leadership, and said the UK will be placing a particular emphasis on accountability and advancing criminal prosecutions around the PSVI. On girls’ education, Dominic Raab acknowledged that gains will only be made with a “wrap-around” approach, which also takes into account girls’ security, health and sanitation.
10. Dominic Raab welcomes America’s return to the world stage under President Biden. The Foreign Secretary emphasised the close degree of communication he has been pursuing with the new administration, and appeared relieved to have the United States back in the fold of the liberal community. He noted that America’s absence created a vacuum in multilateral organisations, and that it was “incredibly important” to ensure that strategic rivals such as China and Russia were not able to capitalise on these. He acknowledged that “tensions and challenges won’t go away”, and that the UK also believes that institutions such as the WHO and the UN are ripe for reform, but that having the United States “in the tent” dramatically increases the impact and reach of liberal ambitions.
The Foreign Secretary also gave evidence to the Foreign Affairs Select Committee in October 2020. You can catch up on our summary of this appearance here.