In their 2019 manifesto, the Conservative Party promised to continue spending 0.7% of gross national income (GNI) on overseas aid. However, last year the Government decided to reduce this amount to 0.5%. The Chancellor published a written statement setting out that the Government intended to meet its commitment only when the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) confirmed that it was not borrowing for day-to-day spending and that underlying Government debt was falling.
On Tuesday (13 July 2021), the House of Commons debated a Government motion on the written statement and voted on whether to accept this new policy or whether to return to meeting the target of spending 0.7% of GNI on overseas aid.
I believe the Government’s cut in overseas development spending is wrong, because investing 0.7% of our income on international aid is in Britain’s national interest. British aid not only saves lives, it also builds a more secure world and promotes democracy and British soft power. Cutting it will create more refugees, more instability and more people having to flee their homes. At the same time, it will reduce UK influence just when we need it most ahead of the COP26 climate conference in Glasgow and risk leaving a vacuum for countries such as China and Russia to fill.
While the Government argues the cut in aid spending is temporary, the conditions it has set out for returning to the 0.7% target will lead to an indefinite cut that is likely to last beyond this Parliament. The OBR does not predict public debt falling as a percentage of gross domestic product until 2024 or 2025 at the earliest. It does not forecast a current surplus for its entire forecast period. There is therefore almost no chance of the cut being reversed anytime soon.
The Government stated in 2019 that it would “proudly maintain” its commitment to spend 0.7% of GNI on development. This was a clear promise to voters and the Government has a duty to honour it. Failure to do so erodes trust in politics and undermines our reputation around the globe.
I therefore voted to keep our promise to the world’s poorest and to hold the Government to its promises to the British people. Unfortunately, the Government’s motion passed by 333 votes to 298. It is disappointing that Government MPs voted for a cut that will diminish Britain’s influence for good in the world and undermine security here at home.