Use £12bn foreign aid budget to pay down the deficit, says former Tory policy chief

Christopher Hope
Britain's £12bn foreign aid spending pledge is under renewed scrutiny - © 2016 Bloomberg Finance LP

Britain’s foreign aid spending target should be scrapped and the cash used to pay down the national debt, a former head of the Conservative Number 10 policy unit has said.

Baroness Cavendish of Little Venice said that the £12billion aid budget was now “under threat” and was hard to justify with the economic uncertainty caused by Brexit.

The news came as the former Tory leader who first wrote 0.7 per cent aid commitment into Conservative policy refuses to say he still backs the policy.

In an interview with the BBC’s Newnight, Lady Cavendish  - who as Camilla Cavendish ran the Number 10 Policy Unit from 2015 to 2016 – said aid spending was now unaffordable.

Theresa May, visiting a radar manufacturer in Enfield today, is expected to keep the foreign aid pledge Credit: Reuters/Reuters

She said: “Baroness Cavendish said: “I have always been concerned that it is too high and I am concerned now when we are running a deficit and because of Brexit we have a Conservative government that is no longer committed to producing a surplus by 2020.”

Lady Cavendish, who quit the Tories after being ennobled by former Prime Minister David Cameron, admitted that the aid target was at risk.

She said: “It is under threat because the UK is the second largest donor in the world. A lot of people feel that is too much.”

International Development Secretary Priti Patel visits a camp for Syrian refugees in Jordan Credit: Andrew Parsons / i-Images/i-Images Picture Agency

The peer said that despite these concerns it was likely that the Tory party manifesto, which is due to be published in the week starting May 8, will include the 0.7 per cent aid commitment.

Separately Lord Howard of Lympne, Tory leader from 2003 to 2006, failed to say whether the aid commitment should be in the party’s manifesto.

Lord Howard, as Michael Howard, first wrote the policy into the party’s manifesto at the 2005 general election.

The manifesto said: “We will support further action on debt relief and will work to meet the UN target of spending 0.7 per cent of national income on overseas aid by 2013.”

Lord Howard has refused to publicly support the policy first written into the Tory manifesto while he was leader Credit: Ben Stansall/AFP

Asked on Chopper's Election podcast if its time had “been and gone” because of the difficulties of hitting a target that increases or decreases with the size of the economy, Lord Howard said: “I am a very strong supporter of giving a substantial amount of aid. We owe a duty to those who share a planet with us.

“I think it does a tremendous amount of good and I think it increases our influence and talking about migration if you want to limit migration then you have got to improve conditions of life in the countries in which these people live.

“Whether the 0.7 per cent target is absolutely the best way of doing it – I will leave that to the Prime Minister to decide.”

He added: “I have always supported it but I want to know what she thinks and what she decided to put in her manifesto and then you can ask me the question again.”

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