Calls for a multibillion-pound cut in the UK’s overseas aid budget and closure of the Department for International Development (DfID) as a separate Whitehall entity are set out in a new Conservative vision for a post-Brexit “global Britain” backed by the former foreign secretary Boris Johnson.
Current definitions of aid spending would be broadened to include peacekeeping, and the BBC’s World Service would be expanded, as part of an effort to restore Britain’s ability to project soft and hard power.
The paper argues the UK should be freed to define its aid spending unconstrained by criteria set by external organisations, and its purpose expanded from poverty reduction to include “the nation’s overall strategic goals”. UK aid spending, set by law at 0.7% of gross national income, was £13.4bn in 2016.
The proposals are being fed into a Foreign Office review on UK soft power post-Brexit headed by the foreign secretary, Jeremy Hunt. There have been repeated reports suggesting the DfID secretary, Penny Mordaunt, wants to dilute or abandon the 0.7% target.
The plans have been drawn up by Bob Seely, a Tory member of the foreign affairs select committee, and James Rogers, a strategist at the Henry Jackson Society thinktank. The report is designed to give substance to the slogan “global Britain”, and is probably the most serious Conservative effort to define the future challenges facing Britain’s overseas engagement. Johnson, who wrote a foreword to the report, says the proposals are “hard to disagree with”.
Dan Carden, the shadow international development secretary, condemned the report, saying it proposed that the UK “turns its back on its commitment to eradicate global poverty, calls for the Department for International Development to be broken up, the aid budget to be slashed and for the UK to pull out of the OECD’s forum of major international donors that oversees global aid spending.”
The report, Global Britain: A Blueprint for the 21st century, suggests the Foreign Office should once again become the dominant outward-facing player in Whitehall, incorporating both DfID and the trade department. The Foreign Office would become the “undisputed intellectual driver of global engagement”. Read more