Dominic Raab has denied the Government is “salami slicing” all parts of the UK’s overseas aid spending as he outlined the priorities for the slashed budget.
The foreign secretary said the long-term strategic aims of the country’s international work will be based on “our values and grounded in the British national interests”.
Raab listed his top five priorities for what is left of the budget. They are tackling climate change, Covid-19, girls’ education, conflict resolution and expanding in-house management of aid delivery “in order to increase the impact that our policy interventions have on the ground”.
Foreign Office minister Baroness Sugg quit in protest against the plan, and more MPs have voiced their opposition to the decision to cut overseas aid from 0.7% to 0.5% of gross national income (GNI) in 2021.
Breaking election promises
The 0.7% target is written into law and Boris Johnson’s 2019 election manifesto promised to keep it.
The UK’s annual aid spend from 2021 is expected to be £10 billion once the temporary cut is imposed – compared to the previous figure of £15 billion.
Chancellor Rishi Sunak used a round of broadcast interviews to claim Britain is not turning its back on the world’s poorest people.
He admitted it was a “difficult decision” to slash the budget but said the UK is in the midst of an “economic emergency”.
Making a statement to the Commons, Raab also expressed “regret” at the decision but said it is necessary as “every penny of public spending will rightly come under intense scrutiny”.
“100,000 children will die”
Conservative former international secretary Andrew Mitchell said his party “do not need to break” their 0.7% spending promise, adding it will “drive a horse and cart” through many of the Government’s aid plans. He added:
It will withdraw access to family planning and contraception for more than seven million women, with all the misery that that will entail, 100,000 children will die from preventable diseases, two million – mainly children – will suffer much more steeply as a result of these changes from malnutrition and starvation.
Mitchell welcomed commitments to girls’ education but noted:
On existing plans, probably a million girls will not be able to go to school. I hope he will bear in mind these reductions make little difference to us in the United Kingdom but they make a massive difference to them.”
In his reply, Raab said it wasn’t possible to predict the implications precisely, “because we’re not going to take a salami-slicing approach of just saying we’ll cut a third from all areas of ODA (official development assistance)”. He continued:
We’re going to take a strategic approach, we’ll safeguard those areas that we regard as an absolute priority – including many of the things he mentioned, particularly on international public health alongside Covid, climate change and girls’ education.
MPs from seven different parties have written to Johnson and Raab to protest the cuts, which would come to about £4bn, including Labour MP Sarah Champion, current chair of the International Development Committee. The letter said:
This would be a devastatingly backward step and would send a worrying message to the rest of the world that the UK no longer has the political and moral will to lead assistance to the world’s poorest and most vulnerable people.
Shadow international development secretary Preet Kaur Gill echoed the opinion in an interview with Sky News:
The Conservatives' short-sighted decision to cut aid has undermined Britain's standing on the world stage. They have broken their own promise to the world's most vulnerable and reneged on their manifesto commitment. @SkyNews pic.twitter.com/gCPEZdW3xM
— Preet Kaur Gill MP (@PreetKGillMP) November 26, 2020
The overseas aid policy was one of a number of measures outlined in the Spending Review intended to help cope with the economy contracting by an expected 11.3% this year.
Sunak also announced what amounted to a pay freeze for an estimated 1.3 million public sector workers and sought to defend the policy on Thursday morning. The cuts proposals come as a row about the proposed £3,300 payrise for MPs has also hit headlines.
The Chancellor told MPs on Wednesday the economy is not scheduled to recover to pre-crisis levels until the end of 2022.
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