A watchdog has questioned the accuracy of Dominic Raab’s recent claims that UK foreign aid to China will be cut by 95 per cent.
The foreign secretary made the comments in a written statement to Parliament last week as his department updated the House of Commons on the allocation of foreign aid for the new financial year.
Mr Raab announced a cut in programme delivery of aid to China to just £900,000 which will remain to “fund programmes on open societies and human rights”, a reduction that conservative campaigners declared “long overdue”.
However the Independent Commission for Aid Impact (ICAI), Britain’s official watchdog which scrutinises the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO), has discovered that Britain’s full assistance to China is running at £82 million a year.
“It is unfortunate that the FCDO have presented the recent announcement as a 95% cut, without an explanation of the levels of spending across government that will continue,” ICAI concluded in an information note published on Wednesday.
It also noted that since the announcement by the now defunct Department for International Development in 2011 to cease overseas aid to China, UK departments have continued to build new partnerships and many have “scaled up their aid spending in pursuit of a wide range of strategic objectives”. In 2019, UK aid to China “reached record levels”, according to ICAI.
The report confirmed it was not suggesting the planned reduction was inaccurate but that the government had so far offered “limited information on the detail of its cuts”, and the reality is that much aid is given to other institutions by way of grants which indirectly still benefits China.
For example, the British Council spent £11m in 2017 devising a cultural programme for China on the first deaf-led film and arts festival, and the council’s Premier Skills partnership with the Premier League helps with language skills and trains football coaches across China.
Former Conservative leader Iain Duncan Smith told the Times in response: “Why the hell is the UK giving money to the second largest economy in the world?
“The government needs to come clean about the total money it sends and how it will go about cutting the whole amount given to this wealthy nation called China.”
Chairwoman of the international development committee and Labour MP, Sarah Champion blasted the cuts the government was expected to make to poorer nations whilst still funding the advanced economy: “The fact that we send aid to China at all when developing countries are facing drastic aid cuts to life-saving programmes is shocking.”