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Britain’s exit from the European Union could boost populist voices keen to slash foreign aid, redirect it to benefit UK businesses and hit charity budgets, industry experts said.

From Live Aid to campaigning with actress Angelina Jolie to end sexual violence in war, Britain is a leading humanitarian player – the first major economy to enshrine in law a United Nations target to spend 0.7 percent of national income on aid.

After a narrow 2016 vote in favour of Brexit, the world’s fifth largest economy is confused – not only about how or when it will leave the world’s largest trading bloc, but also what part it will play in international development afterwards.

Martha Mackenzie, head of government relations at the charity Save the Children, said Britain was at a crossroads.

“The opportunity is the UK leans into that global role and says: ‘Brexit has nothing to do with isolationism. We have traditionally upheld human rights and we’re going to do that even more’,” she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

“There’s also a strain of thought that’s saying: ‘This is a chance to rip all of that up, lean into the destructive mentality that’s taking force in lots of foreign policy circles and pull back from our position on the global stage.”

A worldwide backlash against aid has seen a drop in spending by rich countries amid sex scandals in the charity sector, economic pressures back home and the rise of populist leaders promising to reduce immigration.

Aid spending by major donors fell to $149.3 billion in 2018 down 2.7 percent on 2017, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) said, with Britain the third most generous country after the United States and Germany.


As it prepares for Brexit, Britain is working to replicate about 70 bilateral trade deals, while also seeking to prove that UK aid money provides citizens with value for money by bolstering its own trade, investment and global influence. Read more

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