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By cutting foreign aid, Britain risks losing its position as a force for global good

Educating girls and reproductive health rights for women makes a massive difference in tackling global poverty, writes Peter Bottomley MP. | PA Images

3 min read

We must maintain Britain's 0.7% foreign aid budget, which can do good around the world in ways that also serve our long-term interests.

DATA is the description used by Tom Tugendhat MP, chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee, to summarise the basis of Britain’s foreign policy. He leads the invigilation of the UK’s Official Development Assistance (ODA), including the impact of our diplomacy, aid, trade and arm—DATA.

Better government and fair open trade have the greatest impact on reducing avoidable disadvantage and distress, as well as boosting well-being. There must be a mix of wealth and welfare, also known as ‘the good society’.

A show of force matters as much for peacekeeping and deterrence, as it does in avoiding war when possible and is right to do so. I ask students, what might have been the most appropriate year to confront Adolf Hitler’s obvious and growing threats? 

Escaping high-level persistent civil wars matters too. For most nations, their worst conflicts have been within their national boundaries. Across the globe, our forms of democracy are not equal, and we must consider the merits of flexible political systems with choice. When we make it happen successfully, seriously unpopular governments go. In these systems, former leaders do not fear retribution; they can try again, and can retire within their own country.

Our part of the diplomatic arms race is geared towards the prosperity and happiness of the British people

Social market economics do good, especially in freer cross border trading and international trade with few barriers, bureaucracy and tariffs. Educating girls and reproductive health rights for women makes a massive difference in tackling global poverty. The participation of women in state government made Kerala a standout state in India for women’s rights; sadly the same has not happened in Bihar.

In addition to conventional diplomacy, (full disclosure: after recovery from war wounds my father served in the Dominions, then Commonwealth Relations Office before the Foreign Office; a relation has been in the Department for International Development), we have joined with others to aid countries in basic health, vaccinations, in emergencies and by supporting the work of international institutions which share priorities with the UK.

As the chair of the foreign affairs committee said, our part of the diplomatic arms race is geared towards the prosperity and happiness of the British people. Marshall aid was critical in its purpose of helping the reconstruction of Europe after WWII.

Christian Aid originated in churches in Ireland and Britain helping refugees. For more than 75 years they have provided humanitarian relief and long-term development for poor communities worldwide, highlighting suffering, tackling injustice and championing people’s rights.

I served as one of their trustees for six years before becoming a junior minister. We knew that whatever our efforts, British official assistance could do so much more. Successive governments had the aspiration to reach the target agreed by the United Nations, which was in fact lower than the percentage recommended after the Pearson Report.

We have met the 0.7% foreign aid target since 2013.

The severe drop in our Gross National Income by over 11% already automatically cuts future ODA spending by the same degree. Many colleagues and I support the position of previous Conservative party general election winners proudly to maintain the 0.7% foreign aid budget. A commitment repeated by a senior minister this summer. Some may say charity begins at home; we should say self-interest without selfishness requires us to meet the repeated promise. 

Hold 70p in one hand and £100 in the other. We can do it. This can do good around the world in ways that serve our long-term interests.


Peter Bottomley is the Conservative MP for Worthing West and Father of the House of Commons.

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Read the most recent article written by Peter Bottomley MP - Peter Bottomley tribute to Queen Elizabeth II: ‘She was the very spirit of Great Britain’


Foreign affairs