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The government must put foreign aid cuts to a vote – they will be stronger for it

The government must put foreign aid cuts to a vote – they will be stronger for it
4 min read

Our aid cuts are weak, insecure, and inward-looking. The stakes are too high and the potential damage too great to simply allow the government to run roughshod over Parliament.

A vote on the foreign aid budget is about saving lives and keeping promises – it is that simple.

There is no nuance to this debate, no complicated policy to consider, it is about the kind of country we want to be and our place in the world.

Do we want to self-inflict long-term damage to our reputation and soft power for a tiny fraction of our national budget, or do we want to be a leading force for good with wide-ranging political and economic influence – the choice is ours.

The government should put the issue to a vote, and it will be the stronger for it.

Now this small fraction of our spending may seem abstract, but it speaks to who we are as a whole. The 0.2 per cent difference has dramatic real-world impacts. That reduction puts 10 million of the world’s poorest people at risk of losing out on gaining access to clean water, sanitation, and hygiene facilities. 250,000 people will be denied food and access to clean water in war-torn Yemen.

A further 250,000 women and girls will be at risk of dying because of the devastating 85 per cent cuts to the UN reproductive health programme. Whether we are talking about childbirth, sanitation or access to clean water, it is children who will suffer the worst.

If the foreign aid budget cut continues unabated, it will be a moral catastrophe for our country

The government is choosing death over life, hurt over help, and weakness over strength.

They claim that aside from the frankly ridiculous economic argument over saving £4 billion – less than one percent of our coronavirus spending – that they also have the political argument. They are wrong.  

When asked, 92 per cent of Conservative voters believe we should be funding emergency relief for people in disaster zones, and 76 per cent of Tory voters believe we should be funding water provision for those in dire need. By upholding the foreign aid budget, we are actually fulfilling the wishes of the voters.

It is vital, therefore, that we explain the impacts of our decisions and the consequence of our actions. Then, when the arguments are made plain, we see that the government has neither the support of Parliament nor its own grassroots.

Now the government is doing everything in its power to avoid a vote because, like me, it knows the outcome.

I, like many of my Conservative colleagues, want to uphold the 0.7 per cent spending commitment that was promised in the manifesto. We must remember that was a promise not just to our voters, but to the world’s poorest communities. In radically breaking such promises, the government is eroding public trust and reducing the manifesto to insignificance.

Outside of the domestic damage this cut will cause, sizable harm is being done to our international reputation.

This week the Prime Minister will host the G7 in-person in another step toward normality. We are the only G7 member to cut our aid budget this year. France will spend the 0.7 per cent target, Germany will exceed it, whilst the United States is increasing its aid budget by $14 billion.

By comparison our cuts are weak, insecure, and inward-looking.

If the government held a vote, a strong signal would be sent around the world that we remain committed to help those most in need. Furthermore, keeping the 0.7 per cent would help to sure up our soft power in parts of the world where China is making huge investments and building influence.  

We must remember that throughout history, Britain has prided itself on standing up in the toughest of times, answering the call for help in the darkest hour. Sadly, the government’s short-termism falls short of these lofty standards.

However, it has not won the day.

Neither I nor my colleagues will be stepping away from the fight. The stakes are too high and the potential damage too great to simply allow the government to run roughshod over Parliament. 

If the foreign aid budget cut continues unabated, it will be a moral catastrophe for our country.

 

David Davis is the Conservative MP for Haltemprice and Howden.

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Foreign affairs