Nigel Evans: Will leaving the EU alter our aid priorities? The answer is firmly no
Rocked by the revelations about Oxfam and with Brexit upheaval fast approaching, the charity and development sector faces an uncertain future. But the UK must not waver in its commitment, writes Nigel Evans
There is a common view that the public is angry that so much UK taxpayers’ money is “given away” to foreigners when charity should begin at home and that money should be spent on British public services. To paraphrase a well-known world leader, this is fake news.
It isn’t that this view lacks traction. I have received constituents’ letters hitting out at the government for diverting money away from veterans, OAPs, the NHS… actually the list is pretty limitless. But there is a more dominant view which gets little attention – British people are a generous bunch who appreciate the amazing good UK aid does to help the most vulnerable in the world.
It is true that the UK is one of the most generous aid-donors in the world. It is also true that the British people dig deep into their own pockets when a plea goes out to raise urgent funds for a crisis.
The budget is large and always under scrutiny. When we get our priorities wrong or Daily Mail news headlines focus on a part of the budget which is being spent on teaching people to juggle, or given as direct cash payments with less scrutiny over effectiveness in reducing poverty, or famously when it went to the pop group dubbed “Ethiopia’s Spice Girls”, then it is in danger of debasing the currency of what it actually does.
And now, the development and charity world has been rocked by revelations of aid workers and prostitution in Haiti who worked for Oxfam. The Deputy Chief Executive of the charity has resigned and the International Development Select Committee is using its first session after recess to investigate.
The existence of Oxfam itself could be at risk. The scandal leaves a stain own the organisation and newspapers are daily giving more information about sordid events raising many questions which need urgent answers. Over 1,000 people have already stopped their standing donations to the charity and Minnie Driver, an American actress has resigned as a goodwill ambassador for Oxfam.
Other charities working in the aid sector have been quick to distance themselves from these awful allegations, but there is no denying the negative impact that this story has had on the sector.
Some who dislike the 0.7% aid target are already using this as a vehicle to dent the entire notion of the aid budget.
Whatever the scale of this problem urgent action is necessary to reassure the public that since these revelations the aid industry has taken action to ensure that their own houses are in order.
It is tragic that the very people who these aid workers were there to protect became the victims of their abuse by a small number.
But as we await the answers to our questions it must not be forgotten the amazing work that Oxfam and others have done over many years in the most difficult of circumstances in dangerous towns, villages and cities.
It is this amazing accomplishment and the desire for it to continue to help the most needy in the world that Oxfam must take the necessary action to reassure us all, and they and the rest of the sector must be totally transparent about their actions. Too many people are depending on them for this not to happen and that would truly be tragic.
But alongside this, we must also ensure that the efficiency of our aid is not diminished by the challenges of Brexit, and that the efficiency of the EU aid hit is maintained.
The UK contributed in the region of 15% to the EU aid budget of about $17bn. This comes out of our overall aid budget of about £13bn. It is enshrined in UK legislation that we give 0.7% of our GNI to overseas aid, and what constitutes aid is not simply defined by our interpretation, but internationally defined. Hence our inability to give aid money to hurricane-stricken Caribbean islands because they were not deemed the poorest countries by the OECD. (We gave in the region of £100m out of Treasury money.)
So, will our leaving the EU alter our priorities? The answer is firmly no. We will be paying into the EU aid budget until 2020, irrespective of our EU legal status. When the EU comes to look at its next budgetary spending, that will be something different.
We will still be giving our 0.7% but the part that goes to the EU will be repatriated to UK aid priorities. This could entail the new secretary of state, Penny Mordaunt, deciding that certain EU-led projects are worthy of a UK contribution. The EU-led project will have been open to bids from any organisations that specialise in on-the-ground delivery. Even after Brexit, I expect UK citizens to be involved in aid delivery all around the world and bidding for monies designated to projects sponsored by many government departments.
I also expect reputable aid deliverers based in EU countries (like Médecins Sans Frontières) to bid for aid money to carry on their vital life-saving work around the most crisis-hit hotspots of the world.
So, after Brexit I expect UK aid delivery will be handled, as now, by many agencies around the world. We give a huge sum of money to the International Rescue Committee which is based in New York and led by David Miliband. We give aid to them irrespective of where they are based as they have a track record in serving some of the worst war-torn regions desperate for assistance.
I believe post-Brexit that our priorities will not change. Our relationship with the EU will be one of voluntary cooperation and not part of an automatic standing order.
Our real challenge is not with the EU aid priorities but that of encouraging individual EU countries to step up to the aid plate. Of the 28 EU countries, 22 pay less than the 0.7%. Seven countries pay 0.1% or less. The EU can show greater leadership than to date in working with these countries to pay more into the EU aid pot. I acknowledge that some of these countries will lack the expertise to spend the money efficiently, but that can be taken up by the EU’s existing structure.
So, post-Brexit the dynamics will be nuanced rather than changed. Our task will not alter. After all, when you are starving and your country ravaged by war you are not too bothered where that bowl of food you are eating is coming from or who is providing life-saving medicines to you or your family. The important thing is that the help is there when it is needed.
Nigel Evans is Conservative MP for Ribble Valley and a member of the International Development Select Committee