Theresa May is reportedly considering reducing the UK’s foreign aid budget in order to redirect billions of pounds into the armed forces, as she prepares the Conservative manifesto ahead of June’s General Election.
Such a move would reverse her predecessor David Cameron’s key election manifesto pledge to boost overseas spending to foreign aid. .
However, when questioned in the House of Commons on Wednesday, Mrs May refused to be drawn on whether she would maintain Cameron’s policy of putting 0.7 percent of the national annual economy towards foreign aid.
Asked by Tory backbencher Richard Benyon if she would carry forward current commitments to both aid and NATO, the Prime Minister would only confirm she intended to maintain the UK’s spending on NATO.
“We have committed to meet our NATO pledge of two percent of GDP being spent on defence every year of this decade,” she said.
“We are delivering on that. We have got a £36 billion defense budget that will rise to almost £40 billion by 2020-21 – the biggest in Europe and second largest in NATO.”
On the issue of aid, the Prime Minister would only confirm she intended to meet current UN targets.
“I can assure him that we remain committed, as a Conservative Party, to ensuring the defense and security of this country and to working for a stronger world,” she added.
OECD figures from April 12 indicate the UK is one of the biggest foreign aid donors in the world. At £13.3bn in 2016, Britain’s aid budget was the third biggest in the world after Germany and the US. Of all the G7 countries, only Britain and Germany currently meet the UN’s 0.7% target for aid, with Britain also one of the World Bank’s biggest donors.
Warning against any cut in the UK’s aid budget, the president of the World Bank told Mrs May that cutting the UK’s aid budget could lead to an increase in conflict, terrorism and migration and would damage Britain’s international reputation.
In a strongly worded response to reports that the government was considering dropping its commitment to devote 0.7% of national income to aid each year, Jim Kim said the money the UK provided was vital not just for developing countries but for the future of the world.
His comments came after Bill Gates told the Guardian that lives would be lost in Africa if the government dropped the commitment because plans to eradicate malaria would be jeopardised.
Last year, former Chancellor George Osborne joined Gates to announce £3bn in funding over five years to fight malaria, with the UK contributing £500m a year from its overseas aid budget.
Like Kim, the Microsoft founder also said he believed that the UK would lose influence should it decide to cut the aid budget.