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Dominic Raab is preparing to go head-to-head with Treasury officials who plan to cut the UK’s foreign aid budget to pay for the cost of Covid-19, the Telegraph has learned.
Mr Raab, the Foreign Secretary, officially takes over the UK’s international development brief on Wednesday, following the Government’s merger of the Foreign Office and the Department for International Development.
He is expected to push back against leaked plans to abandon the UK’s legal commitment to spend 0.7 per cent of gross national income on international aid, thought to be under consideration by Treasury officials.
Mr Raab will reaffirm the Government’s commitment to the 0.7 per cent figure, which is also a Conservative manifesto pledge, sources said.
“Whoever is suggesting this doesn’t know the mind of Foreign Secretary,” a senior Whitehall source added.
The suggestion that aid could be axed is thought to have come from Treasury civil servants, rather than from Rishi Sunak, a Government source suggested.
Foreign Office officials are confident the Chancellor will not support the plans on Budget day in November.
Boris Johnson is thought to be against any changes to the aid spend, but the proposed cut is one of a number of measures floated in recent days that suggest the Treasury is planning a major fundraising Budget in November.
A rise in corporation tax and a raid on pensions have also been suggested as ways to reduce the large budget deficit left after the Government’s emergency coronavirus measures.
The annual aid spending target is set out in law, and could only be undone by a vote in Parliament.
The 0.7 per cent figure is recommended by the United Nations, and the UK’s legal commitment makes it one of the largest donors worldwide.
Last year, the Britain spent more than £15bn on aid, including a £972m contribution to the EU development budget.
The proposed abandonment of the aid pledge was criticised on Monday by Tory backbenchers, who suggested that it could weaken the UK’s international standing.
Tobias Elwood, a former defence minister, said: “It’s shortsighted in failing to appreciate how well targeted aid can strengthen relationships and open up new markets - thus helping the Treasury.
“Cutting aid also fuels instability which impacts on the UK. Let’s think strategically.”
A report in the Sun newspaper suggested Treasury officials may have earmarked the money for Foreign Office and Ministry of Defence projects.
But Sarah Champion, chair of Parliament’s International Development Committee, said any money saved may be used by the Government as sweeteners in post-Brexit trade negotiations.
“What concerns me most is a seeming lack of understanding of what aid is and how it benefits the UK,” she told The Telegraph.
Abandoning the 0.7 per cent pledge would lead to a “free for all”, with “aid being used to prop up trade deals”, she said.
A Foreign Office source said: “We are committed to 0.7 per cent. It is Government policy and a manifesto commitment. There will be no change to that.”