The Integrated Review should be a chance to promote British values – so why are we scrapping the 0.7% promise on aid?
Covid-19 has exposed the extreme vulnerabilities of health systems around the world. For Britain to cut its aid rather than increase it at this desperate time is frankly extraordinary.
There was much to be welcomed this week in the Prime Minister’s statement on the Integrated Review on Defence and Security policy. But the fact that virtually every Conservative MP who spoke questioned the wisdom of cutting the 0.7 per cent promise on aid – effectively abandoning our promise to the poorest people in the world and breaking a manifesto commitment – was testament to the strength of disapproval felt across the party.
For me, the Conservative Party has always been a champion of international development and I am proud that we introduced the 0.7 per cent commitment as promised in our manifesto back in 2013. Like now, we were then in an economic crisis when budgets throughout Whitehall were under acute pressure. Unlike now, we refused to balance the books on the backs of the poorest people in the world. We made a promise and, despite our challenges, we kept that promise.
We talk about global Britain, but if we trash our own reputation, what message are we sending to the world?
Abandoning our commitment at the height of this pandemic is not only morally wrong but makes very little common sense. In a world where no-one is safe until everyone is safe, we should be emphasising the importance of aid, not cutting it. Britain has shown bold leadership on aid. We are respected around the world for our unswerving commitment to it.
We talk about Global Britain, but if we trash our own reputation, what message are we sending to the world? If the Integrated Review means anything, it should mean a continuation of those values which Britain has promoted and which has led us to be a bright light in dark places.
The scale of the cuts, around 50-70 per cent for some programmes, was laid bare during the Urgent Question in the House of Commons about Yemen. Famine and cholera stalk that war-torn land. For Britain to cut its aid rather than increase it at this desperate time is frankly extraordinary.
The global pandemic has exposed the extreme vulnerabilities of health systems, thwarting the treatment of killer diseases. I have long campaigned on malaria, a preventable disease which kills thousands of children across Africa every week. I have seen for myself in Rwanda the misery and devastation that is caused as children die from water-borne diseases.
I have also seen how Britain’s work on family planning and contraception has transformed the lives of women and girls around the world. The Prime Minister has quite rightly emphasised our commitments to ensuring all girls achieve 12 years of quality education. This laudable aim will be fundamentally unattainable if these budget cuts go ahead.
And the context could not be worse. Britain is chairing the G7 group of nations this year and hosting the vital climate change meeting in Glasgow in November. Yet Britain is the only G7 country that is cutting its aid. France has recently legislated to implement 0.7 per cent, Germany has hit this target in recent years, and the US is increasing its aid funding by $15bn. For Britain to be moving in the opposite direction is an abject failure of leadership. Again, I ask: what message are we sending?
There is no doubt that over the last year the UK economy has taken a terrible hit. But the proposal to cut the 0.7 per cent baseline by a third means cutting an extra £4bn. This cannot be right. While £4bn is an enormous amount of money, it is merely 1 per cent of what the Chancellor is borrowing this year. But for the world’s poorest, this amount of money is life-saving and life-changing. For them, it makes the world of difference. I hope the government is reflecting on the reaction from many of its own supporters and will think again.
Pauline Latham is the Conservative MP for Mid Derbyshire.