Reports in the Telegraph newspaper suggested new International Development Secretary Priti Patel was looking to "leverage" the UK's US$14.5 billion (£11 billion) to help "open the door" to new trade deals.
"Britain's international aid commitments mean it gets fantastic access to foreign leaders all round the world," a government source told the paper.
Priti Patel, International Development Sec says £11bn foreign aid sh'd be used to encourage trade deals as well as disasters, trade not aid.— joyce miller (@agapanthus49) August 1, 2016
"We can leverage existing relationships to strike trade deals. The Department for International Development (DfID) can be used to improve Britain's standing in the world. It will be a completely fresh way of looking at Britain's aid budget."
"If ministers have meetings with countries which we've given hundreds of millions of pounds to, why can't we use that to start a conversation about trade?"
Leverage Plans ‘Worrying' and ‘Dangerous'
While laws prohibit the UK from connecting trade deals to foreign aid, government figures have suggested their plans would not be in breach of any legislation.
However, the reported changes have been met with fierce criticism from some activists, who have described the reports as "worrying."
*Priti Patel takes DFID despite a history of being sceptical about foreign aid. She has previously called for the department to be abolished— Dr Matthew Ford (@warmatters) July 15, 2016
"If Priti Patel is planning to use the UK aid budget to develop post-Brexit trade deals, it's not only worrying, it could also be violating the International Development Act," Aisha Dodwell, from the campaign group Global Justice Now, said.
The group has announced that it is consulting with lawyers about the possibility of pursuing action against the government over the matter.
"Regardless of the legality of such a move, Priti Patel's aid strategy is veering dangerously towards subsidies and support for big business rather than to addressing the conditions of extreme poverty and inequality that are found in many parts of the world," Dodwell added.
"Since taking up her new post, thousands of people have emailed Priti Patel and called on her to make sure the aid budget isn't used on projects that primarily aim to promote the UK's national or trading interests and instead address the structural causes of poverty and inequality. This announcement shows that she has been ignoring them."