RISHI Sunak’s decision to cut the UK’s aid budget was slammed with dire warnings of the consequences.
Charities, opposition politicians and some of the chancellor’s Tory colleagues all hit out at the move.
Baroness Liz Sugg resigned as a Foreign Office minister, telling Boris Johnson the scrapping of the commitment – which was part of the 2019 Tory general election manifesto – was “fundamentally wrong”.
The Chancellor announced on Wednesday that as part of the government’s spending review, he would no longer allocate 0.7% of gross national income to international development.
From next year it’ll be cut to 0.5%, resulting in roughly £4bn less for aid spending.
Sunak sad: “During a domestic fiscal emergency, when we need to prioritise our limited resources on jobs and public services, sticking rigidly to spending 0.7% of our national income on overseas aid is difficult to justify to the British people, especially when we’re seeing the highest peacetime levels of borrowing on record..”
He added: “At a time of unprecedented crisis, government must make tough choices.”
Sunak insisted that the government’s “intention” was to return to 0.7% “when the fiscal situation allows”.
Andrew Mitchell, a former Tory international development secretary, sad the move would cause “100,000 preventable deaths” mainly among children.
“None of us in this House will be able to look our children in the eye and claim we did not know what we were voting for,” he told MPs.
Former health secretary, Jeremy Hunt, said the cut sent the “wrong signal out to the world about our values as a country”.
“We spent a decade winning the argument,” he said. “Even a temporary cut will create an enormous clamour of people who will say we should not go back to it.”
In her resignation letter to the Prime Minister, Sugg said: “Many in our country face severe challenges as a result of the pandemic and I know the Government must make very difficult choices in response.
“But I believe it is fundamentally wrong to abandon our commitment to spend 0.7 per cent of gross national income on development.
“This promise should be kept in the tough times as well as the good. Given the link between our development spend and the health of our economy, the economic downturn has already led to significant cuts this year and I do not believe we should reduce our support further at a time of unprecedented global crises.”
The Scottish Government’s Minister for International Development Jenny Gilruth, called the decision “deplorable”.
She added: “The Covid-19 pandemic has caused untold distress and damage to people and economies across the world, and as the UK Government’s primary source of development assistance, the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office must do all it can to help the world’s poorest countries to both respond and to build back fairer.
“This move also raises questions about trust in the Government. In June the Prime Minister said he would abide by the legally-binding commitment to spend 0.7% of gross national income on overseas development aid.
“That commitment was again confirmed in correspondence to the Scottish Government by the Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs in July, when concerns were raised with the UK Government about the merger of the Department for International Development with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.
“With gross national income already hit hard by the Covid pandemic, that commitment already means fewer funds are available for this vital aid. And now that commitment seems to have been abandoned entirely.
“It is a dangerous and deeply irresponsible move at a time when the world is responding to a pandemic that does not respect borders.”
British Red Cross chief executive Mike Adamson said he was “urgently seeking assurances” that the cut would be temporary.
“A swift return to our 0.7% commitment in 2022 and beyond is imperative if we are to maintain our reputation and aspiration to be a country that is open, outward-looking and confident on the world stage,” he said.
“Right now, as we face the biggest health emergency of our lifetime, we must reassure our international partners that funding for humanitarian assistance will be protected.”