David Cameron and Tony Blair warn against proposed foreign aid cuts

21 November 2020, 10:49

Chancellor Rishi Sunak is expected to reduce the UK's commitment to spend 0.7% of national income on overseas aid to 0.5%
Chancellor Rishi Sunak is expected to reduce the UK's commitment to spend 0.7% of national income on overseas aid to 0.5%. Picture: PA

By Matt Drake

Former prime ministers David Cameron and Tony Blair have warned against proposals to cut foreign aid, calling it a "strategic mistake".

Chancellor Rishi Sunak is expected to reduce the UK's commitment to spend 0.7% of national income on overseas aid to 0.5%.

The drop will account for more than £4billion based on last year's income of £2.17trillion.

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Speaking to the Daily Telegraph, Mr Cameron said: "Abandoning the 0.7% target for aid would be a moral, strategic and political mistake. Moral, because we should be keeping our promises to the world’s poorest. A strategic error, because we would be signalling retreat from one of the UK’s vital acts of global leadership.

“And a political mistake because the UK is about to chair the G7 and important climate change negotiations. I hope the PM will stick to his clear manifesto promise, maintain UK leadership and save lives.”

The proposals come as coronavirus lockdown has put a strain on public finances with the government spending billions in an attempt to keep the economy running and racking up record amounts of debt.

Mr Blair said foreign aid was a British achievement that saved millions of lives in Africa by reducing HIV and malaria.

He told the paper: "This has been a great British soft power achievement. It isn't about charity. It's enlightened self-interest. Neither the challenge of climate or coronavirus can be met without Africa.

"Nor can those of extremism and uncontrolled immigration. To change it is a profound strategic mistake."

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Both of the former Prime Ministers warned the cut in funding risked alienating the US president-elect Joe Biden ahead of the G7 summit which is due to be held in the UK in 2021.

Mr Sunak will set out the nation's finances at the Comprehensive Spending Review (CSR) on Wednesday and is expected to publish a bleak outlook for the economy which is the largest downgrade in economic performance and public finances since the Second World War.

The World Bank forecasts that 100million more people will be pushed into poverty as a result of the pandemic.

Former International Development Secretary Andrew Mitchell said: "Any minister will tell you that no budget can withstand a 30 per cut without major impacts.

"I was responsible for this budget in Whitehall, and there is no doubt that this decision will lead to tens of thousands of otherwise preventable deaths – perhaps as many as 100,000, mainly children, whose lives would have been saved by UK aid."

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