Theresa May has warned of a “perfect storm” of lost funding and expertise through the UK’s Government £4 billion cut in foreign aid spending.
The Conservative former prime minister said she hoped to see aid spending return to 0.7% and with it a “truly global Britain that is fully engaged with the world”, adding that “sadly at the moment the message is rather different”.
David Davis, a Conservative former cabinet minister, said the aid cuts would lead to “miserable deaths” around the world while Tory ex-international development secretary Andrew Mitchell pressed Boris Johnson to give MPs a “meaningful vote” in the Commons over the policy.
Their remarks came during an estimates day debate focused on the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office’s (FCDO) future spending, including overseas aid.
Motions for estimates day debates list different parts of spending for a department but are taken as a whole.
Opponents of the cuts would prefer a straight yes or no decision on the policy.
The Government has reduced aid spending to 0.5% of national income rather than the 0.7% pledged in the Conservative Party 2019 general election manifesto.
Speaking in the Commons, Mrs May said: “It seems to me we’re looking at a perfect storm where not only the money’s gone away, but actually when the time comes – and I hope it’ll be next year and the Government restores the 0.7% – we actually find that the people aren’t there in the department to be able to ensure that that is being done and being done effectively.
“So I would like to say to the minister that I would sincerely hope that we can restore the respect that we have had around the world through our funding and our expertise, restore the 0.7%, look holistically at the aid spending, don’t lose Dfid (Department for International Development) expertise and then we might be able to return… as an enterprising, outward-looking and truly global Britain that is fully engaged with the world, sadly at the moment the message is rather different.”
Mrs May spoke about the reduction in modern slavery and girls’ education programmes before addressing the creation of the FCDO by merging the Foreign Office and Dfid.
She said: “I fear that it is reducing the UK’s clout on the world stage and this cut in overseas aid is but one example of that.”
She spoke about the “real impact on the ground” of the funding cuts, adding: “We’re now hitting the needy across the world with a double whammy because they’re losing our funding and they’re losing our expertise as well.”
Former Brexit secretary Mr Davis said: “It is all well and good us sitting or standing here talking about the percentage cuts here and the percentage cuts there, but we are all clear on this – these cuts will kill.”
He added: “I think it is asserted that Stalin once said that a single death is a tragedy and a million deaths is a statistic, and we’ve been standing here talking about 100,000 deaths here and 100,000 deaths there.
“So I’ll finish by drawing everyone’s attention to the nature of what we’re talking about – we’re talking about miserable deaths for babies and children from starvation or diarrhoea and dysentery.
“We’re talking about women dying in childbirth, or shortly after childbirth.
“We’re talking about the sort of cruelty, albeit it may be cruelty by neglect, but the sort of cruelty that put in front of any ordinary constituent of ours, would draw both compassion and generosity from that constituent.
“And that is what we want to see from the Government, either today or when they come to make their proper decision on this policy.”
Mr Mitchell added: “What we seek from this Government, that is rebelling against its own promises and manifesto, is a meaningful vote, not a show of force that the Government can ignore, and we do this in accordance with Mr Speaker’s specific instructions to the Government at 3.30pm on June 14.”
Foreign Office minister James Duddridge said the pandemic had meant the Government had been forced to take “incredibly tough and serious decisions that are not taken lightly” when it came to overseas aid spending.
Following criticism from MPs about the lack of detail available on which programmes are set to lose funding, the front bencher said more information will be available in the Foreign Office’s September annual report.