PM warned cutting aid budget would be 'devastatingly backwards' step

5 September 2020, 06:50

Boris Johnson has been urged to clarify his position amid rumours that foreign aid spending is to be reduced
Boris Johnson has been urged to clarify his position amid rumours that foreign aid spending is to be reduced. Picture: PA
Rachael Kennedy

By Rachael Kennedy

Any cuts made to the UK's foreign aid budget would be a "devastatingly backwards step", MPs have warned Boris Johnson.

A cross-party group of politicians wrote to the prime minister on Friday asking him to clarify his position on the budget, and urging him to confirm that rumours of plans to reduce spending are inaccurate.

They included chairwoman of the International Development Committee Sarah Champion, former Liberal Democrat leadership candidate Layla Moran and the SNP's Chris Law.

The letter reminded Mr Johnson that the UK has "a moral duty to assist the world's poorest and most vulnerable people" and it should be "encouraging others to follow".

READ MORE: Poorest in the world likely to 'pay greatest price' in aid department merger, say MPs

It comes amid rumours that Chancellor Rishi Sunak is preparing to revert from a commitment to spend 0.7% of national income on foreign aid - which was mentioned in the Conversatives 2019 election manifesto.

This is thought to be due to Mr Sunak trying to find ways to cover the costs caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.

But the letter, which was also signed by Plaid Cymru's Hywel Williams, the SDLP's Claire Hanna, the Alliance Party's Stephen Farry and Caroline Lucas from the Greens, said this would be a "short sighted" approach.

It read: "It would be short sighted and morally reprehensible for the Chancellor to use the needs to cover the costs caused by COVID-19 as a political cover for the government's ideological dismantling of the international aid budget."

Noting that the UK has hit the target of spending 0.7% of income on such aid since 2013, the letter also added that reversing a manifesto commitment would be a "devastatingly backwards step" and would send a "worrying message" to the rest of the world.

READ MORE: Boris Johnson announces merger of foreign and international development departments

The timing of the letter coincides with the recent abolishment of the Department for International Development (DfID) - meaning aid spending is now under the remit of the newly-named Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office.

On this recent change, Mr Law said the Conservative Party had had a "long-standing disdain" for aid efforts but that the ridding of a department meant this had changed "rhetoric to reality".

He added: "The decision to abolish DfID without any consultation was met with widespread concern and opposition, and that approach looks set to continue following growing reports that the Chancellor may reverse the Tories' manifesto pledge and scrap the 0.7% aid commitment, as well as looking to redirect the aid budget towards defence.

READ MORE: Former Government Advisor Tom Swarbrick Highlights Flaw In Foreign Aid Spending

"At a time when poorer countries and vulnerable people face being disproportionately hit by the coronavirus pandemic, it appears as though the message from the Tory government is that it no longer has the political or moral will to lead on the international stage.

"Cuts to the aid budget would be entirely counterproductive as in order to protect ourselves against COVID-19, we must ensure that it is eradicated globally."

Mr Law said the letter to the prime minister, therefore, would be urging for further clarification as silence would be "beyond shameful".

The Foreign Secretary has previously said on the matter: "It is a manifesto commitment, it is written into law as you know, and the Prime Minister has said we want the aid capacity and development expertise that we've got to be the beating heart of this new department."