John Major has butted in over foreign aid, demanding that the British government’s massive spending commitment remains at 0.7% of national product as the government prepares to trim it by just 0.2%.
In advance of a rebel backbench amendment, the former prime minister argues it is not “morally defensible” to reduce foreign aid spending and appeals to ministers to “honour their better instincts and let compassion prevail.”
Conservative figures have long called for the generous and arbitrary spending target to be abolished after it was enshrined in law by David Cameron in 2015, the coalition government having met it for the first time two years earlier.
Nigel Farage has always been dead against, calling for “trade not aid”.
“What we’ve seen over the last few years is us consistently be the highest spender on foreign aid,” said the then Brexit Party leader in a 2019 campaign interview. “Doing it to meet arbitrary targets, spending it in ways that enrage many people in this country.”
Last month, The Foxhole covered Tory backbencher Andrew Bridgen’s powerful criticism of the generous target. Appearing on Newsnight, he said: “Let’s think about the 0.7% aid budget. That was sold to me by David Cameron on the basis that if we adopted that, as we did in 2013, and delivered it for the first time, that we’d shame other developed nations into matching our generosity. And history shows that that just isn’t true.”
He went on to say: “It seems slightly bizarre that we measure the effectiveness of our aid budget not in outcomes, what we deliver with our aid, but just purely on the measure of how much taxpayers’ money we throw at it.”
The Covid pandemic has taken national debt beyond the two trillion mark for the first time ever, a milestone it reached almost a year ago, since then, another £170bn of borrowed money has been lost.
In 2019, just over £15bn was spent on foreign aid, diverting that money to paying off Britain’s eye-watering debts each year would make no small impact.
But Major and his allies are steadfast, the outlay must not drop a smidgen, even though the proposal under the government’s integrated review of foreign and defence policies is to bring internationl aid back up “when the fiscal situation allows”.
“I strongly support Britain maintaining her statutory promise to commit 0.7 per cent of our GDP to overseas aid,” said Major in advance of Monday’s amendment to block the cut. Theresa May is among the rebels.
“Whilst I fully recognise our own budgeting difficulties, I do not believe it is morally defensible to ease our own financial burden at the expense of some of the poorest and most vulnerable people in the world, who have nothing – and nowhere else to turn for help.
“I made my own views on this clear to the Government, privately, some weeks ago and – even at this late hour – I hope they will honour their better instincts and let compassion prevail to aid those in dire need.
“Only then can we re-establish ourselves as a nation that keeps its word, and begin to repair our reputation as a global force for good.”