Cutting aid budget would hit UK influence, two former PMs say

·2-min read
FILE PHOTO: Lord Ashdown Memorial Service at Westminster Abbey

LONDON (Reuters) - Two former British prime ministers have urged Boris Johnson to retain the government's spending on foreign aid, warning he will damage the UK's influence on the global stage if he cuts it in a finance review next week.

Tony Blair and David Cameron released a statement to the Telegraph newspaper urging Johnson to maintain Britain's pledge to spend 0.7% of GDP on aid and development following reports it could be cut to conserve cash during the pandemic.

British finance minister Rishi Sunak will deliver a spending review on Wednesday, setting out government spending over the next year after COVID-19 blew a 200 billion pound hole in the country's finances.

"Abandoning the 0.7 target for aid would be a moral, strategic and political mistake," Cameron, prime minister from 2010 to 2016 and a member of Johnson's Conservative Party, said.

The two former leaders argued that any move to cut spending on aid would undermine Britain's position when it hosts the G7 summit in 2021. The decision comes as the country embarks on a new future outside the European Union.

Blair, a Labour prime minister from 1997 to 2007 who introduced the 0.7% target, said the spending had tackled disease, boosted education and helped to increase living standards across large swathes of Africa.

"This has been a great British soft power achievement," he said. "It isn't about charity. It's enlightened self-interest.

"Neither the challenge of climate or coronavirus can be met without Africa. Nor can those of extremism and uncontrolled immigration. To change it is a profound strategic mistake, and I sincerely hope the government will not do it."

Johnson was asked on Wednesday during his weekly question session in parliament to rule out a cut to the aid budget, and declined to do so.

(Reporting by Kate Holton; Editing by Mark Potter)

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