British Chancellor Rishi Sunak has faced a furious backlash after announcing he plans to cut the overseas aid budget from 0.7 per cent to 0.5 per cent until the financial situation in Britain improves.
A total of 10 billion pounds (13.3 billion dollars) is going to be handed out in 2021 to help fund humanitarian aid, crisis relief and bilateral aid in poorer countries, Sunak said on Wednesday.
This is a reduction of around 4 billion pounds (5.3 billion dollars) from the amount previously promised by the government.
He made the announcement in Parliament as he revealed Britain’s spending plans for the next year.
But the announcement led to uproar in Parliament’s House of Lords, with a minister resigning from Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government and a letter being sent to Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab, warning him that if the reduction went ahead, it would be in violation of British law.
Baroness Liz Sugg, a minister for the Foreign Office, announced on Wednesday afternoon she was resigning from Johnson’s government.
In a letter to Johnson, she said: “Many in our country face severe challenges as a result of the pandemic … but I believe it is fundamentally wrong to abandon our commitment to spend 0.7 per cent of gross national income on development.”
Sugg, who has a seat in the House of Lords, will retain her title as baroness and place in the House of Lords, as they are separate from her role in the Foreign Office.
In response, Johnson said he was “very sorry” to receive her resignation and praised her “passion and commitment” to her work over the years.
Baroness Anelay, a former Foreign Office minister who chairs the Lords’ International Relations and Defence Committee, also opposed the plan.
She said: “The UK’s aid has already been reduced by 2.9 billion pounds this year as a result of the decrease in Gross National Income resulting from the Covid-19 crisis.”
“A further cut from 0.7 per cent to 0.5 per cent of GNI from 2021 would result in a significant further decrease in ODA at a time when this budget is already strained.”
Former prime minister David Cameron, who enacted the 0.7 per cent as law in 2015, also weighed in on the cuts, and called the decision a “sad moment.”
Speaking to lawmakers earlier on Wednesday, Sunak said that he was being forced to cut how much money was given to places such as Africa and Asia for the next year at least, in order to help curb British spending.
“Sticking rigidly to spending 0.7 per cent of our national income on overseas aid is difficult to justify to the British people, especially when we’re seeing the highest peacetime levels of borrowing on record,” he said.
“I have listened with great respect to those who have argued passionately to retain this target. But at a time of unprecedented crisis, the government must make tough choices.”
Sunak’s announcement, called a spending review, is normally delivered every three years. It outlines how much money is going to be spent by the British government on public services.
However, due to the second wave of the Covid-19 outbreak in Britain, forcing England to lockdown for a month in November and Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland to face ongoing restrictions, the new spending budgets will be in place for just one year.
Official forecasts showed that the British economy was expected to shrink by 11.3 per cent this year, meaning England and the devolved nations are facing their worst recession in more than 300 years.