LONDON: Britain on Wednesday rejected criticism that it was abandoning the world's poorest at a time of global crises by closing down its overseas development ministry, insisting it stood by its hefty aid commitments.
The ministry is being subsumed into the Foreign Office, prompting fears Britain's £15-billion ($19-billion) budget for international aid could be raided to help foot the soaring economic bill of the coronavirus pandemic, or fund other priorities.
However, Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said the government remained committed to spending 0.7 percent of Britain's national income on aid, as his new beefed-up Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office started operations.
The pandemic and famine around the world were a direct threat to British interests, he told parliament.
"We can only tackle these global challenges by combining our diplomatic strength with our world-leading aid expertise," Raab said, stressing Britain was emulating the model of other nations such as Australia and Canada.
The expanded ministry "will deliver on this government's commitment to forge a truly Global Britain, to defend all aspects of the British national interest and to project Britain as an even greater force for good".
Raab said his new department would be to the fore as Britain takes over the G7 presidency next year, and the UN climate change conference known as COP26, at the start of a new chapter following its Brexit divorce from the European Union.
The old Department for International Development (DfID) was created by Tony Blair's Labour party when it took power in 1997. The news in June that it was to disappear as a separate entity sparked an angry response from the former prime minister.
One of Blair's Conservative successors, David Cameron, even warned the development would result in Britain commanding "less respect" on the global stage, and agencies such as Oxfam said the world's poorest people would suffer.
The Times newspaper reported on Wednesday that finance minister Rishi Sunak was seeking to divert billions from the aid budget to pay for upgrades to intelligence capabilities and military hardware.