June 16 (UPI) -- British Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced Tuesday he is combining the Department for International Development with the Foreign Office, allowing foreign secretary Dominic Raab control of the new department.
Johnson said the move was made to update the country's diplomacy and overseas development efforts, but critics claimed it will lead to Britain turning its back on the world's poorest countries which it has given aid.
Johnson said the work on the merger will happen immediately, and the department will be called the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office. He said he hopes the new office will be up and running by September.
"This is exactly the moment when we must mobilize every one of our national assets, including our aid budget and expertise, to safeguard British interests and values overseas," Johnson said in a statement.
"And the best possible instrument for doing that will be a new department charged with using all the tools of British influence to seize the opportunities ahead," Johnson said.
A statement from Johnson's office said Britain's aid will be given new prominence in its international policy.
"The foreign secretary will be empowered to make decisions on aid spending in line with [Britain's] priorities overseas, harnessing the skills, expertise and evidence that have earned our reputation as a leader in the international development community," the statement said.
He said Britain will remain committed to spending 0.7 percent of its gross national income on overseas development.
Labor Party leader Keir Starmer accused Johnson of creating a distraction with the announcement against high coronavirus death numbers and rising unemployment.
"Abolishing [the Department for International Development] diminishes Britain's place in the world," Starmer said. "There is no rationale for making this statement today. The prime minister should stop these distractions, and get on with the job of tackling the health and economic crisis we currently face."