UK cuts overseas aid after worst recession in over 300 years

UK cuts overseas aid after worst recession in over 300 years
A pedestrian walks over London Bridge away from the City of London in London on November 25, 2020. (AFP)
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Updated 25 November 2020

UK cuts overseas aid after worst recession in over 300 years

UK cuts overseas aid after worst recession in over 300 years
  • Decision goes against the government’s promise last year to maintain the aid target and drew sharp criticism
  • A minister has quit, arguing that the decision “will diminish our power to influence other nations to do what is right”

LONDON: The British government faced fury Wednesday over its decision to ditch its long-standing target for overseas aid in the wake of what it described as the deepest recession in over three centuries.
In a statement to lawmakers, Treasury chief Rishi Sunak said the target to allocate 0.7% of national income to overseas aid will be cut to 0.5%. The move is expected to free up 4 billion pounds ($5.3 billion) for the Conservative government to use elsewhere, money that critics say could be used to save tens of thousands of lives in the poorest parts of the world.
While expressing “great respect to those who have argued passionately to retain this target,” Sunak said “sticking rigidly” to it “is difficult to justify” to people at a time when the economy has been so battered by the coronavirus pandemic.
“At a time of unprecedented crisis, government must make tough choices,” he said.
Without giving a timetable, he said that the government aims to return to the target first laid out by the Labour government of Tony Blair in 2004. And he said that even with the new target, the UK will still be the second biggest aid spender among the Group of Seven leading industrial nations.
The decision goes against the government’s promise last year to maintain the aid target and drew sharp criticism from across the political spectrum, including within Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s own Conservative Party.
Liz Sugg, a junior minister at the Foreign Office, has quit, arguing that the decision “will diminish our power to influence other nations to do what is right.”
The UK has for years been considered one of the world’s leaders in development and aid so the government’s decision to lower the target was met with anger and dismay from poverty campaigners.
“Cutting the UK’s lifeline to the world’s poorest communities in the midst of a global pandemic will lead to tens of thousands of otherwise preventable deaths,” said Oxfam Chief Executive Danny Sriskandarajah.
Save the Children Chief Executive Kevin Watkins also said the decision had “broken Britain’s reputation for leadership on the world stage” ahead of its hosting of the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference next year.
The Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby joined the chorus of disapproval, describing the cut as “shameful and wrong” and urging lawmakers “to reject it for the good of the poorest, and the UK’s own reputation and interest.”
In a sobering assessment that provided the backdrop to the cut, Sunak sought to balance ongoing support for the economy with a longer-term commitment to heal public finances after a stark deterioration.
“Our health emergency is not yet over and our economic emergency has only just begun,” he said.
Sunak said the government’s independent economic forecasters are predicting that the British economy will shrink 11.3% this year, the “largest fall in output for more than 300 years.”
The Office for Budget Responsibility expects the economy to grow again next year as coronavirus restrictions are eased and hoped-for vaccines come on stream. The agency is predicting growth of 5.5% in 2021 and 6.6% the following year. As a result the output lost during the pandemic won’t have been recouped until the final quarter of 2022.
Sunak warned that the pandemic’s cost will create long-term “scarring,” with the economy 3% smaller in 2025 than predicted in March, before the spring lockdown.
The massive fall in output this year has led to a huge increase in public borrowing as the government sought to cushion the blow and tax revenues fell. Sunak said the government has pumped 280 billion pounds into the economy to get through the pandemic. Public borrowing this fiscal year is set to hit 394 billion pounds, or 19% of national income, “the highest recorded level of borrowing in our peacetime history.”
He warned that underlying public debt is rising toward 100% of annual GDP.
“High as these costs are, the costs of inaction would have been far higher,” he said. “But this situation is clearly unsustainable over the medium term.”
Sunak said the 1 million doctors and nurses in the National Health Service will get a pay rise next year, as will 2.1 million of the lowest paid workers in the public sector. However, he said pay rises in the rest of the public sector will be “paused” next year.
Sunak also announced extra money to support Johnson’s program of investments in infrastructure across the UK, particularly in the north of England, where the Conservatives won seats during the last general election. A new infrastructure bank will also be headquartered in the north of England.


Trump impeachment article to be sent to Senate, triggering trial

Trump impeachment article to be sent to Senate, triggering trial
Updated 24 min 30 sec ago

Trump impeachment article to be sent to Senate, triggering trial

Trump impeachment article to be sent to Senate, triggering trial
WASHINGTON: US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is set to send the Senate a single article of impeachment Monday accusing Donald Trump of inciting the Capitol riot, formally triggering the first-ever impeachment trial of a former president.
Pelosi, the top Democrat in Congress, vowed last week that the trial — already scheduled to open in the second week of February — should proceed, saying, “I don’t think it will be long, but we must do it.”
But Republican lawmakers signaled over the weekend that Democrats may struggle to secure Trump’s conviction over the storming of US legislative buildings earlier this month, which left five people dead.
Senior figures in Trump’s party have pushed back with both political and constitutional arguments, raising doubts that Democrats — who control 50 seats in the 100-seat chamber — can secure the 17 Republican votes to reach the two-thirds majority needed to convict.
“I think the trial is stupid. I think it’s counterproductive. We already have a flaming fire in this country and it’s like taking a bunch of gasoline and pouring it on top,” Marco Rubio, the top Republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee, told Fox News Sunday.
He acknowledged that Trump — who had urged thousands of his supporters to flock to Washington and protest the congressional certification of Joe Biden’s victory — “bears some responsibility for what happened.”
But to “stir it up again” could only hurt the country, said Rubio, a presidential candidate beaten by Trump in the 2016 primary.


Other Republicans argued that the Senate has no authority to put a private citizen — as Trump now is — on trial.
Senator Mike Rounds told NBC’s “Meet the Press” that the constitution does not allow for the impeachment of a former president.
But Senator Mitt Romney, the Republicans’ 2012 presidential candidate and a frequent Trump critic, told CNN that “the preponderance of legal opinion is that an impeachment trial after a president has left office is constitutional. I believe that’s the case.”
The Utah Republican — the only member of his party to vote to convict Trump in his first impeachment trial — hinted that he may be leaning the same way now.
He said he believed “that what is being alleged and what we saw, which is incitement to insurrection, is an impeachable offense. If not, what is?“
The Capitol riots were documented on videos seen around the world — as were Trump’s earlier exhortations to the crowd to “fight” for his presidency — complicating his defense.
His case may have suffered further after The New York Times reported Friday that Trump had considered ousting the US acting attorney general in favor of a low-ranking official receptive to his efforts to overturn the election result.


Biden has publicly taken a hands-off approach to the impeachment, eager to put Trump in the rear-view mirror and seek progress on fighting the coronavirus pandemic and reviving a devastated economy.
Biden spokeswoman Jen Psaki said that the president “believes that it’s up to the Senate and Congress to determine how they will hold the former president accountable.”
As Democrats worked to prepare the case against Trump, one of those who will present it in the Senate — Representative Madeleine Dean — said she hoped it would move quickly.
“I would expect it would go faster” than the 2020 impeachment trial, which lasted 21 days, she told CNN.
The trial, however, will be a test for senators: Democrats hope to devote part of each day to regular business, but the furies always surrounding Trump seem sure to undercut any bid for bipartisan cooperation.
Dean said she was in the House chamber during the “terrifying moment” when the invading mob began pounding on its doors, chanting: “Hang Vice President Pence.”
She said Democrats would demand accountability of Trump for “an extraordinarily heinous presidential crime.”
And Daniel Goldman, who was lead counsel for the House’s first impeachment inquiry, tweeted Sunday that “the only way to ensure this lawless, authoritarian, anti-democratic conduct never happens again is to hold him accountable.”
The House of Representatives impeached Trump for a historic second time on January 13, just one week before he left office.
The article of impeachment will be delivered and read out to the Senate on Monday at 7:00 p.m. (0000 GMT Tuesday). The chamber’s 100 members will be sworn in as trial jurors the next day.