Fresh aid cuts would further diminish Global Britain as a force for good
We are not naive: we’ve both been around the block. One of us negotiated spending settlements with the Treasury as the international development secretary, while the other agreed departmental budgets as chief secretary to the Treasury in the wake of the global finance crisis. So, we know what’s going on in the corridors of power, at this very late stage, on the eve of the Chancellor’s spending review.
At the eleventh hour, the Chancellor and foreign secretary still do not seem to have reached an agreement on how to treat the recycling of the UK’s allocation of Special Drawing Rights: a reserve currency of the International Monetary Fund. A line of credit that we don't need, but that the poorest countries in the world are desperate to access.
There is no doubt that the UK could – in the jargon – “score” this as official development assistance, but as no cash will leave the Treasury coffers it seems completely perverse for the Chancellor to insist on additional cuts to Britain’s aid projects.
Another issue is sharing Covid-19 vaccine doses with the poorest countries, who so far have seen less than 1 per cent of global supply. The government has, rightly, committed that the vaccine doses it shares this year and next will not necessitate further cuts to life-saving British aid. It is imperative that the Treasury upholds this promise from the Prime Minister, made at the G7 summit.
Britain has stepped back, while other countries have stepped up
Perhaps most worryingly, analysis from the Overseas Development Institute, shows the only place that the FCDO could reasonably find further cuts to their budget would be in aid to climate vulnerable countries. That would be catastrophic to the seeking of global agreement, on the eve of the COP26 climate change summit in Glasgow that starts next week.
The poorest countries need all the help they can get in recovering from the pandemic, meeting climate change targets, educating girls, creating jobs and building sustainable health systems. But how the Treasury go about this business says something about the role Britain plays in the world. We’ve cut our aid budget while every other G7 country has increased theirs. Britain has stepped back, while others have stepped up.
The slogan inherited by our new Foreign Secretary, Liz Truss, is for Global Britain to be seen as a “force for good in the world.” Yet, as the economist Ranil Dissanayake said recently: “to be a force for good in the world, you need to be a force”. Sneaking further aid cuts into the spending review would further diminish Britain as a force for the poorest people living in the poorest countries, and Global Britain would be the poorer for it.
Liam Byrne is the Labour MP for Birmingham Hodge Hil and chair of the Global Parliamentary Network on the World Bank and IMF. Andrew Mitchell is the Conservative MP for Sutton Coldfield and former International Development Secretary.
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