UK aid cut rebellion builds momentum as former PM intervenes

UK aid cut rebellion builds momentum as former PM intervenes
Britain’s ex-Prime Minister John Major appears on the Marr Show on BBC television in London, Britain, July 22, 2018. (Reuters)
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Updated 04 June 2021

UK aid cut rebellion builds momentum as former PM intervenes

UK aid cut rebellion builds momentum as former PM intervenes
  • John Major: ‘Let compassion prevail to aid those in dire need’
  • Aid organizations, politicians: Proposed aid cuts could have devastating humanitarian consequences

LONDON: Former British Prime Minister John Major has spoken out against the government’s plan to cut billions from the country’s foreign aid budget.

Major urged Prime Minister Boris Johnson to “let compassion prevail” ahead of a crunch week in Parliament.

Earlier this week, dozens of Conservative MPs tabled an amendment that would force the government to abort plans to slash the UK’s foreign aid budget from 0.7 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) to 0.5.

In a statement, Major said he recognizes the economic difficulties the government faces, but “I strongly support Britain maintaining her statutory promise to commit 0.7 percent of our GDP to overseas aid.”

He added: “I do not believe it is morally defensible to ease our financial burden at the expense of some of the poorest and most vulnerable people in the world, who have nothing — and nowhere else to turn for help.”

The cuts, if they go ahead, would see around $5 billion cut from Britain’s overseas aid budget — a massive reduction that would hit some of the Arab world’s poorest countries hardest.

Lebanon, Yemen, Sudan and Libya would all see reductions of tens of millions of dollars in funding.

Aid to Yemen, which is experiencing one of the world’s most devastating humanitarian crises, was reduced from the £197 million ($279.5 million) pledged in 2020 to £87 million for 2021 — a cut that Mark Lowcock, former head civil servant at Britain’s Department for International Development, said would “cause many more deaths” and “damage the international reputation of the UK.”

The proposed reduction in aid to Lebanon threatens to undermine the country as it struggles to cope with a collapsing economy.

Syrian refugees living in Lebanon would be among the worst hit, and aid organizations have warned that their already difficult lives would become near-impossible to navigate without British funding.

“I hope (the government) will honour their better instincts and let compassion prevail to aid those in dire need,” said Major.

“Only then can we re-establish ourselves as a nation that keeps its word, and begin to repair our reputation as a global force for good.”

Andrew Mitchell, the senior Conservative politician leading the rebellion against the government in Parliament, said his party must honor its electoral commitment to not reduce foreign aid.

“Every single member of the House of Commons was elected on a very clear manifesto promise to stand by this commitment. We have repeatedly urged the government to obey the law and implored ministers to reconsider breaking this commitment,” he added.

“The cuts are now having a devastating impact on the ground and are leading to unnecessary loss of life. We urge the government to think again.”

Rebels have proposed an amendment that would modify the Advanced Research and Invention Agency bill — which aims to establish a “high risk, high reward” research agency — to include a clause committing the government to upholding a previous law in which Britain pledged 0.7 percent of its GDP to foreign aid up until 2022.

Rebel MP Tobias Ellwood on Thursday said he is “confident” that he and his colleagues have enough votes to defeat the government. 

On Monday, the speaker of the House of Commons will decide whether the amendment is selected for consideration when the bill returns to Parliament for further consideration.