Dominic Raab confirms UK’s aid spending to be cut by £2.9bn amid coronavirus downturn
The Foreign Secretary has also launched a review of the UK’s aid priorities. (Image: PA)
Britain is slashing its international aid budget by £2.9billion as a result of the coronavirus economic downturn, Dominic Raab has confirmed.
The Foreign Secretary said ministers would also “look at how our aid budget can be used most effectively in our national interest" as he revealed that the sharp contraction in the UK economy will also reduce the amount the country spends on overseas aid.
Britain is committed to spending 0.7% of its Gross National Income on international development.
But Mr Raab told MPs that the economic crisis now facing Britain would trigger a reduction in the overall amount spent.
He said: "The coming months will doubtless bring with them a number of financial challenges, so I am writing to update you on the Government’s plans on how we will ensure we continue to meet our 0.7 percent Gross National Income (GNI) spending commitment for Official Development Assistance (ODA).
"Given the likely decrease in the size of the economy this year, the Prime Minister asked me to identify the changes needed to ensure we meet, but do not exceed the 0.7 percent commitment.
"As this commitment is based on our GNI, when the economy shrinks, our ODA spend also reduces."
The Foreign Secretary — who will take on responsibility for overseas aid with the abolition of the Department for International Development — said he had spoken to officials to review the UK’s budget.
And, spelling out the country’s development priorities, he said: "This has been a thorough process, and we have been able to ensure that the money we will still spend in 2020 remains prioritised on poverty reduction for the ‘bottom billion’, as well as tackling climate change and reversing biodiversity loss, championing girls education, UK leadership in the global response to COVID-19, and campaigning on issues such as media freedom and freedom of religious belief, thereby ensuring that the UK is a global force for good."
Mr Raab said officials had identified £2.9billion worth of potential reductions, including "underspends, delaying activity and stopping some spending".
And he added: "The package I have agreed with the Prime Minister maintains our flexibility and enables the Government to manage our ODA spend against an uncertain 0.7 percent position.
"It will see some reductions made now, with arrangements in place to tailor spending further during the remaining months as we start to gain a clearer economic picture.”
But the announcement drew swift criticism from Labour MP Sarah Champion, who chair’s Parliament’s International Development Committee.
“The announcement today raises more questions than it answers,” she said.
"The letter speaks of delaying activity and stopping some spending – what is the timescale on this?
"If it is with immediate effect, do the projects know or will they find out via the media as DFID staff did about the merger? Is there an overarching strategy in place?”
And she asked: "Will the evaluation of the impact of these cuts be made public? Where is the scrutiny?
“Clearly there has been no consultation, but to release this news literally as parliament rises so there can be no scrutiny by MPs is poor practice.”
Liberal Democrat international development spokesperson Wendy Chamberlian meanwhile said the “callous” move showed promises by the Government “clearly weren’t worth the paper they were written on”.
She added: “This devasting cut to international aid is a clear sign that the UK is abandoning the world stage. Because of this Government more children will have their life chances blighted by poverty.
“Now more than ever we need oversight and scrutiny by retaining the ICAI, the International Development Committee and a Development Minister in Cabinet."
‘MORE CLARITY’ NEEDED ON NEW AID SET-UP
The confirmation of the cut came as MPs on the Foreign Affairs Committee said the new combined Foreign Commonwealth and Development Office will need “strong strategic direction and leadership from the beginning” to be effective.
Chairman and Conservative MP Tom Tugendhat said: “That will demand more clarity from the Government. From bringing together the different cultures, to ensuring highly skilled and well-respected experts are not lost as a result.
“This merger is an opportunity to use the best of each department as a springboard to a stronger foreign policy delivering for the British people, if done right.”
He added: “We need to learn from similar mergers across the world, to ensure our place on the world stage and our international reputation are enhanced and that we continue to deliver aid to the world leading standard we have done for decades.”