July 18, 2019

Multibillion foreign aid budget should be spent to advance Britain’s ‘political and commercial interests’, Boris Johnson says

Multibillion foreign aid budget should be spent to advance Britain’s ‘political and commercial interests’, Boris Johnson says

Boris Johnson has backed calls for a huge de-facto cut in the foreign aid budget, saying the money should be spent in the UK’s “political and commercial interests”.

The £13.4bn pot should fund all peacekeeping work and world service broadcasting, a controversial report says – diverting much of its cash to the Ministry of Defence and the BBC.

And the aid target, enforced in law at 0.7 per cent of gross national income, should be reworked for the UK government’s own policy aims, beyond economic development in poor countries.

Mr Johnson threw his weight behind the proposals, put forward in a pamphlet by a backbench Tory MP, saying they “are hard to disagree with”.

“We could make sure that 0.7 per cent – a huge sum of money – was spent more in line with Britain’s political, commercial and diplomatic interests,” he said.

The former foreign secretary pointed to his anger when, after Hurricane Irma devastated the British Virgin islands in 2017, UK aid cash could not be used to rebuild lives there.

“That was a real lesson to me in the importance of changing these rules,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.”

Mr Johnson insisted he did not “want to despoil Dfid [department for international development] of their cash”, but added: “We can be smarter in the use of our aid money.”

The call comes after Penny Mordaunt, the international development secretary, came under fire from MPs after telling the cabinet the foreign aid budget was “unsustainable”.

The government should shift its focus towards attracting private donations, and reduce reliance on taxpayers’ money, she said last month.

Her remarks were seized upon by Labour, who claimed it was a “cynical attempt to undermine” the country’s commitment to eradicating global poverty.

Now the pamphlet has been written by Bob Seely, a Conservative member of the foreign affairs select committee, and James Rogers, a leading strategist at the Henry Jackson Society thinktank.

The proposals, to be fed into a Foreign Office review of the UK’s soft power, suggest the Foreign Office should swallow up incorporating both the DfID and the trade department.

The report says the UK’s projection of its power has been weakened by disjointed Whitehall structures and imbalances in the nation’s spending towards aid focused on economic deprivation.

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