Foreign Office minister resigns over plans to slash aid budget

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A Foreign Office minister has resigned in protest against the government’s decision to cut the overseas aid budget, saying such a move is “fundamentally wrong”.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak announced the aid budget will be cut to 0.5% of gross national income in 2021 – in spite of promises not to reduce it in the Conservative manifesto – adding the Government’s “intention” is to return it to 0.7% when the fiscal situation allows.

Baroness Sugg, whose brief included sustainable development, said promises should be kept in the “tough times as well as the good”.

In a letter to the Prime Minister, she wrote:

Many in our country face severe challenges as a result of the pandemic and I know the Government must make very difficult choices in response.

But I believe it is fundamentally wrong to abandon our commitment to spend 0.7% of gross national income on development. This promise should be kept in the tough times as well as the good.

Given the link between our development spend and the health of our economy, the economic downturn has already led to significant cuts this year and I do not believe we should reduce our support further at a time of unprecedented global crises.

Boris Johnson said he was “very sorry” to receive her resignation, writing in reply that he is “extremely grateful” for her service as a minister.

The cuts have been widely criticised. Andrew Smith of Campaign Against Arms Trade slammed the cut in comparison to last week’s announcement of a 10% increase in military spending.

This is a terrible decision. It sends entirely the wrong message. It will be felt by many people in desperate situations, and could have dire consequences. Nobody can eat a gun. It suggests that ‘Global Britain’ will continue down the same path of pursuing an aggressive and militaristic foreign policy while building ever-closer political and military relationships with human rights abusers, regardless of the consequences.

And Daniel Willis, aid campaign manager at Global Justice Now, said:

Today’s brutal slashing of the UK aid budget is not only a betrayal of countless promises, but will accelerate the UK’s increasingly extractive relationship with the global south. Even many of the efforts to defend the 0.7% target this week have talked about how good it is for Britain – profoundly missing the point.

The aid budget is a small and imperfect recognition of the UK’s historic responsibility to countries and continents it has colonised, and it continues to be worth fighting for. But UK aid should not be a tool for the imperial nostalgia of ‘Global Britain’. It should be about redistributing wealth and resources to tackle international challenges like climate breakdown, inequality and Covid-19.

A government with the slightest interest in limiting the damage of these cuts would start with the most damaging aspects of its recent aid strategy, including funding for dirty fossil fuel projects, unaffordable private hospitals and luxury hotels, often through the unaccountable CDC Group that has a poor record on aid impact. Instead, these are the areas we are likely to see protected.

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