Cutting the UK’s foreign aid budget would be a “devastatingly backwards step” which would send a “worrying message” to the rest of the world, Boris Johnson has been told.
A cross-party group of MPs has written to the Prime Minister, demanding he urgently clarify rumours that spending in this area is to be reduced.
Fears have been raised that Chancellor Rishi Sunak could row back on the commimtment – included in the Conservatives 2019 election manifesto – to spend 0.7% of national income on foreign aid as he tries to find cash to meet the mounting cost of the UK’s Covid-19 response.
Warning the Prime Minister against such a move, the MPs, including chairwoman of the International Development Committee Sarah Champion, former Liberal Democrat leadership candidate Layla Moran and the SNP’s Chris Law, insisted that the UK has a “moral duty to assist the world’s poorest and most vulnerable people”.
The UK has met the target of spending 0.7% of national income on foreign aid since 2013, noted the letter, which was also signed by Plaid Cymru’s Hywel Williams, the SDLP’s Claire Hanna, the Alliance Party’s Stephen Farry and Caroline Lucas from the Greens.
The MPs added: “We should be encouraging others to follow where the UK has led, not looking to retreat from our international commitments.
“It would be short sighted and morally reprehensible for the Chancellor to use the needs to cover the costs caused by Covid-19 as a political cover for the Government’s ideological dismantling of the international aid budget.”
Raising fears that the manifesto commitment could be reversed, they argued: “This would be a devastatingly backward step and would send a worrying message to the rest of the world that the UK no longer has the political and moral will to lead assistance to the world’s poorest and most vulnerable people.”
The letter comes after the Department for International Development (DfID) was abolished, with aid spending now coming under the remit of the new Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office.
Mr Law, the SNP spokesman on international development at Westminster, said: “The Tories’ long-standing disdain for the UK’s global aid efforts is no secret, however, their recent attempts to dismantle the UK’s international development system has gone from rhetoric to reality.
“The decision to abolish DfID without any consultation was met with widespread concern and opposition, and that approach looks set to continue following growing reports that the Chancellor may reverse the Tories’ manifesto pledge and scrap the 0.7% aid commitment, as well as looking to redirect the aid budget towards defence.
“At a time when poorer countries and vulnerable people face being disproportionately hit by the coronavirus pandemic, it appears as though the message from the Tory government is that it no longer has the political or moral will to lead on the international stage.”
He added: “Cuts to the aid budget would be entirely counterproductive as in order to protect ourselves against Covid-19, we must ensure that it is eradicated globally.
“That is why I, along with colleagues from across Westminster, have written to the Prime Minister demanding that beyond the briefings, it is imperative that he himself clarifies whether there is any truth to these reports, and that he comes good on his word to protect the aid budget. His silence at this time is beyond shameful.”
The Foreign Secretary previously said: “It is a manifesto commitment, it is written into law as you know, and the Prime Minister has said we want the aid capacity and development expertise that we’ve got to be the beating heart of this new department.”