LONDON: The UK government is planning to cut its aid programs to some of the world’s poorest countries by as much as two thirds between 2021 and 2022, according to a leaked Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO) report.
Those hardest hit by the cuts include Lebanon, which could see a reduction in aid spending of as much as 88 percent, Syria (67 percent, Libya (63 percent), Somalia (60 percent) and South Sudan (59 percent).
Earlier this week, it was revealed that the UK government is considering cutting aid spending in Yemen by 59 percent, meaning a drop to £87 million ($120.4 million) from £164 million pledged last year — a move that drew condemnation from British MPs across the political spectrum, and from UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres.
Kevin Watkins, CEO of Save the Children, told The Times: “We are looking at the near collapse of UK help for children trapped in the world’s worst war zones, just as a second wave of the pandemic bears down on many of them.”
The leaked document, obtained by Open Democracy, details suggestions of how the UK might reduce its legal target spend on foreign aid from 0.7 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) to 0.5 percent this year. Over the next two years, the budget will be reduced from £15 billion to just over £9 billion.
The FCO told The Guardian that savings will have to be found across government spending due to the “seismic impact of the pandemic on the UK economy,” which will mean “temporarily reducing the amount we spend on aid.” No final decisions, it added, have yet been made.
After the scale of the cuts to Yemen’s portion of UK foreign aid became apparent, former International Development Secretary Andrew Mitchell described the government’s plans as “unconscionable.”
Guterres said cuts to Yemeni aid would represent a “death sentence” for people across the country.
FCO Minister James Cleverly suggested that the government might try to amend the law pegging foreign aid spending to GDP without putting it to a vote in Parliament — a move that could be subject to judicial review over its legality.
Mitchell told the UK House of Commons: “The foreign secretary assured Parliament that he would protect seven strategic priorities from cuts, including humanitarian relief. He also told the select committee he would reply to the former solicitor general’s determination that cuts would be unlawful without a change to legislation.”
Mitchell added: “Nothing like what is being suggested here should be considered until Parliament has given its express consent, which I rather doubt will be forthcoming.”
The government has also been warned by four former UK prime ministers — Tony Blair, Gordon Brown, David Cameron and Theresa May — that cutting aid budgets to the most vulnerable nations amid the pandemic would do untold harm to Britain’s reputation.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson is thought to believe that the British public want to see belt-tightening across government expenditure to assist with the country’s economic recovery.
David Miliband, a former FCO minister and current president of the International Rescue Committee, said: “Make no mistake — as the UK abandons its commitment to 0.7 percent (of GDP), it is simultaneously undermining its global reputation.”
He added: “The phrase ‘global Britain’ rings hollow. As the UK prepares to host the G7, the reduction of assistance to Yemen is a stark warning of what is to come as the government delivers on widespread cuts across the entire UK aid portfolio.”
A letter sent to Johnson by a group of over 100 charities — including Oxfam, Save the Children and Christian Aid — called the cuts a “misjudgement” by the government.
“History will not judge this nation kindly if the government chooses to step away from the people in Yemen and thus destroy the UK’s global reputation as a country that steps up to help those most in need,” the letter said.