The Co-op Party is campaigning to stop the government axing the Department for International Development, which it says plays a crucial role in driving equality around the world.
On its page for the campaign it says: “Tackling global inequality is at the heart of the co-operative movement’s mission, and it was Co-operative MPs who helped found the Department for International Development (DFID) during the last Labour government.“
After Boris Johnson’s government announced plans to absorb DFID into the Foreign Office, the Co-op Party said: “Today, DFID is under threat – and we need your help to protect Britain’s commitment to international aid.”
Calling on members and other supporters to support its call to keep the department, it warned that its closure would mean “turning our backs on the world’s poorest people at a time where they are bearing the brunt of some of the greatest challenges of our time, from climate change and global pandemics, to conflict and extreme poverty.”
It added: “The co-operative movement is proudly internationalist, and that’s why we’re asking you to call on the government to halt this proposed merger and uphold our proud record on international development.”
The move has drawn widespread criticism. Among those attacking the move are charities Christian Aid, Unicef and Oxfam, and former prime ministers Tony Blair, Gordon Brown and, from Johnson’s own party, David Cameron.
From the Co-op Party’s ranks, Preet Kaur Gill MP, Labour’s shadow secretary of state for international development, said: “The takeover of DfID is a huge mistake, completely unnecessary and represents a Prime Minister in retreat.”
She said it would hurt the world’s poorest and most vulnerable people would damage the UK’s “soft power … and moral credibility”.
“DFID’s hard won global leadership on development cannot be matched by FCO or any other government department,” she added. “It achieves value for money for the taxpayer and the world’s poorest.”
She said the move is “absurd and dangerous” at a time when DFID’s health expertise is needed to help the global response to Covid-19, putting lives at risk in the UK and abroad.
And Labour/Co-op MP Gareth Thomas tweeted: “A profoundly bad decision: DFID generates considerable soft power benefits for the UK … Helping the poorest countries tackle disease helps reduce chances of those diseases coming to our country.
“Above all as one of the richest countries in the world isn’t it right we have a standalone department helping the most vulnerable have the chance of a better life?”
Co-operative projects which have enjoyed DFID support include a scheme by the Co-op Group in 2011 to form tea-growing co-ops in Kenya, and working to help them gain Fairtrade certification.
The Group had match-funding from DFID to help 11,000 Kenyan growers make the transition, which made them eligible to supply the Co-op’s ‘99’ Fairtrade tea blend.
Delivery partners on the project included the Co-operative College in the UK and Kenya, the NGO Africa Now and the tea supplier Finlays.
The project was signed off by Andrew Mitchell, then the minister in charge of the department, who is now a backbench Conservative MP; he has also condemned Mr Johnson’s move as an “extraordinary mistake” which “would destroy one of the most effective and respected engines of international development anywhere in the world”.
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