Minister hits out at Tory leadership hopeful Esther McVey over 'rubbish' airport aid claim

Posted On: 
13th June 2019

Tory leadership hopeful Esther McVey has come under fire from a government minister after claiming that the UK's foreign aid budget had been used to fund an overseas airport built "in the wrong direction".

Esther McVey is among the 10 Tory leadership candidates.

The former Work and Pensions Secretary has vowed to slash £7bn from development spending and divert it to education and policing in Britain instead.

Hitting out at the aid budget on LBC Radio on Wednesday, Ms McVey said: "We know airports have been built and actually the runways are in the wrong direction because of the winds.

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"We know we’ve got that airport where we can’t take off and land because of the winds."

Asked by host Iain Dale where that airport was, she replied: "It’s in one of the continents abroad."

But Foreign Office minister Alan Duncan branded the comments "total rubbish".

He wrote on Twitter: "The runway in question is in St Helena.

"I was the DfID Minister who built it - completed early, under budget, and despite difficult wind conditions it operates well.

"It fulfils our legal obligations to a UK overseas territory and so is not ‘foreign aid’."

However, the £285.5m St Helena project was criticised by MPs on the cross-party Public Accounts Committee in 2016, who accused the Department for International Development of a "staggering" failure to account for the impact of high winds when funding the project in the South Atlantic overseas territory.

The department believed that giving the territory a new airport would help to boost its tourism industry and eventually reduce the amount of subsidy required by UK taxpayers.

But the Public Accounts Committee said the weather conditions meant fewer-than-expected flights were able to make use of the new facility when it first got up and running.

Tatton MP Ms McVey is one of 10 Tory leadership candidates and will find out at 1pm on Thursday whether she has made it through to the second ballot of MPs.