The Prime Minister last week promised the House of Commons that he would end an era of British retreat from the world stage. Instead, in breaking his promise to the world’s poorest and the British people, he has signalled the biggest retreat by a British government in decades.
I have been dismayed by the patronising comments by some Tories that people in the North or the Midlands don’t care about helping people in need. This does a disservice to the British people and is simply false.
We know how generous and compassionate people are in this country – we see it in upsurges in volunteering, fundraising and donating whenever humanitarian emergencies hit the news. And I know my constituents are incredibly proud of the UK’s record in inoculating children against deaths from preventable diseases, and providing safe drinking water and food aid following disasters.
However, in recent years, the government has increasingly diverted the aid budget away from the poorest countries to projects and programmes that have stretched the definition of humanitarian or development support to breaking point. This is an active choice that successive Secretaries of State have made and it must stop. Aid should be spent on eradicating poverty and tackling inequality.
Spending aid helping the world’s poorest is not just the right thing to do but it is in our national interest. Next year we host the presidency of the G7, the UN Security council, the Global Partnership for Education summit and COP26 (the UN Climate Conference). As we leave the European Union, these are opportunities to showcase Britain as a leader on the greatest challenges facing humanity and demonstrate the compassion and solidarity of British people to the world.
Instead, by breaking the commitment that was enshrined in law and promised in their manifesto a year ago this week, and that has been repeated many times since by Boris Johnson, Dominic Raab and his ministers, the government is calling into question whether they can be trusted to keep their word. This administration seems determined to shirk its international responsibilities and commitments, regardless of what that does to our country’s reputation.
Britain historically punches well above its weight on the world stage, but that influence is built on trust. Our traditional allies as well as our detractors and competitors are looking on, and make no mistake, they have already noted this move – and it will weaken our hand.
We are in the middle of a global health crisis which has caused devastation around the world with the loss of almost 1.5 million lives directly due to the coronavirus. Defeating it as quickly as possible requires cooperation and collaboration across borders, but this government has repeatedly shown they have no clear strategy for engaging with the world. Breaking alliances and weakening our global influence puts us all at risk.
The UN Climate Conference next year is vital to our efforts to agree a dramatic acceleration in the pace and scale of global climate action. For it to be a success, the UK will need to lead by example and harness the political will and drive of others. Cutting the aid budget sets the worst possible example. Not only have Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak undermined the UK’s credibility as a force for good, they have made it far harder for us to build a safer, healthier, fairer, better world for all of us.
From civil servants to the world’s poorest, this government has a knack for passing the buck for its shortcomings; all the better when their scapegoats can’t answer back. They have wasted billions of pounds of UK taxpayers’ money on 184 million items of unusable personal protective equipment during Covid, a test and trace system that still isn’t working and contracts handed out to their family and mates. But rather than taking responsibility for their incompetence, this government has chosen to make the poorest and most vulnerable pay for its failures.
Rishi Sunak’s announcement this week of a second cut to the aid budget this year was a political choice, not a necessity. One that a Foreign Office minister described as “fundamentally wrong” in her resignation letter. The 0.7% commitment ensures that the country only funds what it can afford. If the UK economy is doing well it goes up; and if you are presiding over the worst economic downturn in the G7, then yes, it goes down proportionally.
During the economic crisis in 2008, the last Labour government showed you can support the UK economy and the people in this country without turning your back on the world’s poorest. We can help the poorest people in the UK and abroad if we choose to. This government has made the decision not to.