Government must keep it’s word and reverse devastating foreign aid cuts
During a global pandemic, will we be thanked for pulling the rug from under the poorest countries of the world?
Every single member of the House of Commons was elected on a very clear manifesto promise to stand by the 0.7% commitment on aid. Because the target is a proportion of our gross national income, the 0.7% rises and falls as our economy grows and contracts. With our economy projected to return to growth, there is no reason for the government to ignore the legal obligation set by Parliament and to meet the 0.7% target.
As my colleague Tim Loughton has argued: “Its simplicity is built into the formula: our payments go up in times of plenty and fall back when our economy is stretched. It takes the rough with the smooth, and as such, is a quintessential symbol of the British sense of fair play.”
We should not be seeking to balance the books on the back of the world’s poor. Yet, as we prepare to host the G7 summit at the end of this week, and with the eyes of the world on us, that is exactly the message we are sending out. As Theresa May told the Prime Minister in Parliament: “We are respected for what we do, not just because we are British.”
Around the world, global Britain stands for something much larger than our small islands. For tolerance and for justice. As a force for good. We stand up for democracy in Hong Kong and for human rights in China. We speak out against the persecution of Christians in Africa and Asia and of Uighur and Rohingya Muslims. We champion freedom of expression, sexual liberation, marriage equality and religious freedoms. But the cuts have forced the FCDO to slash funding for the UN’s reproductive health programme by 85%. The UN says this aid would have helped prevent around 250,000 maternal and child deaths.
During a global pandemic, will we be thanked for pulling the rug from under the poorest countries of the world? As we do everything in our power to prevent the death of our citizens at home, how can we justify cutting our lifesaving support for health systems in Africa? The Foreign Secretary said one of his seven priorities would be global health security. But in the middle of a pandemic the cuts have forced him to slash the budget by 14%. That might not sound like a lot, but the result is to condemn to death thousands of children from entirely preventable diseases like measles and malaria.
If we do not use aid to educate girls, boost economic growth through trade and assist African leaders in raising the living standards of their people, we will be missing out on a massive opportunity. Although the Prime Minister’s personal priority for aid is girls’ education, even this has had to be cut by 25%. While Unicef, the United Nations Children’s fund has had a cut of 60%.
My colleagues and I have repeatedly urged the government to obey the law and implored Ministers to reconsider breaking this commitment. The cuts are now having a devastating impact on the ground and are leading to unnecessary loss of life. We urge the government to think again, or we shall be asking Parliament to reaffirm the law as it stands so as to oblige the government to meet its legal commitment, keep its very clear pledge to British voters and uphold Britain’s promise to the rest of the world.
Andrew Mitchell is the Conservative MP for Sutton Coldfield, former International Development Secretary and former Chief Whip.