Dominic Raab vows to tackle famine and the coronavirus as he heads up new government department

Foreign secretary Dominic Raab, during a press conference at Lancaster House in central London. Phot

Foreign secretary Dominic Raab, during a press conference at Lancaster House in central London. Photograph: Peter Summers/PA. - Credit: PA

Foreign secretary Dominic Raab has pledged to tackle famine and the coronavirus pandemic as he takes helm of the new Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office.

The Brexiteer takes over the new department amid a row over the possibility of cuts to the foreign aid budget after the Department for International Development was axed.

The merger with the Foreign Office provoked widespread criticism, including from charities and three former prime ministers, that it would harm the world's poorest people.

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But Raab is pledging to use diplomacy and the aid budget to alleviate the impacts of the coronavirus pandemic, conflict and climate change.

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'Global Britain, as a force for good in the world, is leading by example and bringing the international community together to tackle these deadly threats, because it's the right thing to do and it protects British interests,' he said in a statement.

'We can only tackle these global challenges by combining our diplomatic strength with our world-leading aid expertise.'

He pledged that the £119 million package, to come from the existing aid budget, would help alleviate extreme hunger for over six million people in Yemen, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Somalia, Central African Republic, the Sahel, South Sudan and Sudan.

Raab made no mention of the aid budget in his statement after reports the government is considering cuts.

Politicians - including some Tory MPs - have reacted angrily to suggestions that ministers could axe the commitment to spend 0.7% of gross national income on overseas aid.

Former international development secretary Andrew Mitchell said: 'With the ink hardly dry on our manifesto, I don't think the House of Commons would easily agree to balance the books on the backs of the poorest women and children in the world.'

Tory chairman of the Commons defence committee Tobias Ellwood said the cut would be 'shortsighted in failing to appreciate how well-targeted aid can strengthen relationships and open up new markets – thus helping the Treasury'.

Former prime minister David Cameron previously warned the merger was a 'mistake' and that it would result in the UK commanding 'less respect' on the global stage.

Tony Blair, the Labour former prime minister whose administration created the department in 1997, said he was 'utterly dismayed' by Boris Johnson's decision.

Downing Street dismissed the reports as 'speculation'.

'There is no change with regard to the commitment on 0.7%,' Boris Johnson's official spokesman said.

The merger means the former international development secretary Anne-Marie Trevelyan has returned to the backbenches.

No 10 confirmed she would be entitled to a pay-off because of the closure of her department.

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