Foreign Office minister Baroness Sugg resigns after foreign aid cut

25 November 2020, 15:29 | Updated: 25 November 2020, 15:44

Foreign Office minister Baroness Sugg has resigned in protest at the cut in overseas aid announced by Chancellor Rishi Sunak
Foreign Office minister Baroness Sugg has resigned in protest at the cut in overseas aid announced by Chancellor Rishi Sunak. Picture: PA

By Megan White

Foreign Office minister Baroness Sugg has resigned in protest at the cut in overseas aid announced by Chancellor Rishi Sunak, branding it "fundamentally wrong".

In her resignation letter to Prime Minister Boris Johnson, Baroness Sugg said it had been a privilege to work as a Minister for Sustainable Development but said she "did not believe we should reduce our support further at a time of unprecedented global crises."

Her resignation came after the Chancellor announced Britain will slash its foreign aid budget below the UN target of 0.7 per cent of gross national income for the first time in five years.

Rishi Sunak told the Commons in his first Spending Review that the UK would give 0.5 per cent of GNI to poorer countries in 2021, a total of £10 billion.

He said sticking to the United Nations target, enshrined in law in 2015, “is difficult to justify to the British people” at a time of “domestic fiscal emergency” with the highest peacetime levels of borrowing on record.

Baroness Sugg wrote: "It is with sadness that I write to resign from the Government.

"It has been a privilege to work as a Minister for Sustainable Development, the Overseas Territories and the Caribbean on important global issues close to my heart - ending extreme poverty, promoting gender equality, advocating for the importance of sexual and reproductive health and rights and building a fairer, more sustainable world.

"I am grateful for the opportunity to serve as the first UK Special Envoy for Girls' Education. We have made great progress in this area and I know we share the belief that educating every girl will solve many of the world's biggest problems.

"I have valued working on our unique relationship with the British Overseas Territories and I am proud of the support the UK provided them during the pandemic. It has been a pleasure to deepen the relationship with our friends in the Caribbean."

She continued: "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.

"For me, as for many in our Party and the country, it is a source of great pride that the United Kingdom has been a development superpower and contributed so much to the world.

"Our support and leadership on development has saved and changed millions of lives. It has also been firmly in our national interest as we tackle global issues, such as the pandemic, climate change and conflict.

"Cutting UK aid risks undermining your efforts to promote a Global Britain and will diminish our power to influence other nations to do what is right. I cannot support or defend this decision. It is therefore right that I tender my resignation.

"I will continue to support our hard-working front bench team in the House of Lords from the back benches. I will continue to advocate for the importance of the 0.7% commitment and for ways to improve its impact. I hope to see the Government return to 0.7%, fulfilling our pledge to those who need it most.

"I am grateful to my ministerial colleagues and the dedicated and talented civil servants with whom I have worked across three departments.

"Thank you for the opportunity to serve as a Minister in a job that I love."

In his response to Baroness Sugg, the Prime Minister wrote: "Thank you for your letter informing me of your resignation as Parliamentary Under Secretary of State, and as my Special Envoy for Girls' Education. I was very sorry to receive it.

"I am extremely grateful for your service as a Government minister in recent years, and in particular for everything you have done since I became Prime Minister last year. You have given outstanding service through your work in the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office, and previously in the Department for International Development. You have been at the forefront of the UK's leading role in international development, and your efforts in support of girls' education in particular have been instrumental.

"Your work has made a difference to millions of girls around the world, and will stand us in good stead for the Global Partnership for Education replenishment event next year. In addition, your leadership and rigour in the lead up to and during the Africa Investment Summit made it the enormous success it was.

"Your passion and commitment to your work has been clear to civil servants and your Ministerial colleagues, and I know that the FCDO will miss you."