African countries are among the main recipients of foreign aid from the UK
Plans for a multibillion pound cut in the UK’s foreign aid budget have been set out as part of a new Conservative vision for a post-Brexit “global Britain”.
The proposals feature in a report called Global Britain: A Blueprint for the 21st century, drawn up by Bob Seely, a Tory member of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee, and James Rogers, a strategist at the Henry Jackson Society think tank. The newly published paper is intended to inform a Foreign Office review being headed by Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt on the UK’s geopolitical role after quitting the European Union.
This “is probably the most serious Conservative effort to define the future challenges facing Britain’s overseas engagement”, says The Guardian.
Champions of the plan include former foreign secretary Boris Johnson, who has written a foreward to the paper in which he argues that the proposals are “hard to disagree with”.
According to Seely and Rogers, in 2017-18 Whitehall spent as much as £1.5bn on overseas aid that did not meet the Government’s official aid definitions and that was therefore not counted towards the 0.7% ODA target.
The authors argue the UK “should be freed to define its aid spending unconstrained by criteria set by external organisations”, and the purpose of such aid expanded from poverty reduction to include “the nation’s overall strategic goals”.
One of their key proposals is that the Foreign Office should once again become the main outward-facing government department, incorporating both the Department for International Development (Dfid) and the Trade Department. The Foreign Office would then become the “undisputed intellectual driver of global engagement”, the report says.
Under the plan, all UK peacekeeping efforts would be funded through overseas aid, with savings returned to the Ministry of Defence to increase Britain’s military power. In a bid to restore Britain’s ability to project soft and hard power, the BBC World Service would also be expanded, with a £1bn budget funded entirely from aid.
And Dfid would be blocked from spending simply to meet the 0.7% target, with cash instead held back if no suitable projects arise. The report argues: “The greatest alleviator of poverty in the world has been Western capitalism backed by Western foreign direct investment.”
The blueprint is thought to chime with the opinion of International Development Secretary Penny Mordaunt. The Sun reported last month that Mordaunt had told colleagues that the overseas aid target was “unsustainable” and that Dfid should “move from being a spending department to a fundraising department”.
However, in an article for The Times, former international development secretary Andrew Mitchell argues against the plans, saying: “Keeping Dfid as an independent department and ensuring that all UK aid is poverty focused, effective and transparent will help the UK to retain its hard-earned global reputation”.
Labour MP Dan Carden, shadow international development secretary, also condemned the proposals that the UK “turns its back on its commitment to eradicate global poverty, calls for the Department for International Development to be broken up, the aid budget to be slashed and for the UK to pull out of the OECD’s [Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development] forum of major international donors that oversees global aid spending”.