Theresa May opens door to dropping Britain's international aid target after election

Jon Stone
Theresa May in the House of Commons (File): House of Commons

The Prime Minister has opened the door to dropping the UK’s international aid target by refusing to confirm that it will be retained in the next Tory manifesto.

Theresa May declined to commit to the target when pressed by one of her own MPs at Prime Minister’s Questions today.

The aid target of spending 0.7 per cent of GNI on development assistance is unpopular with some right-wing newspapers and politicians, but was supported by David Cameron’s government as a way of helping the poorest.

Conservative MP Richard Benyon said he was proud of both “the commitment to NATO to spend 2 per cent of GDP on defence and our commitment to the UN to spend 0.7 per cent of GNI on overseas aid”.

He asked Ms May: “Will my right hon. Friend please commit the future Conservative Government to do the same?”

The Prime Minister responded by agreeing a commitment to to the Nato target but would only say the UK was currently “meeting our UN commitment”.

“My right hon. Friend is absolutely correct. Obviously we have committed to meet our NATO pledge of 2 per cent of GDP being spent on defence every year of this decade,” she said.

“We are delivering on that. We have got a £36 billion defence budget that will rise to almost £40 billion by 2020-21—the biggest in Europe and second largest in NATO. We are meeting our UN commitment to spend 0.7 per cent of GNI on overseas development assistance.

“I can assure him that we remain committed, as a Conservative party, to ensuring the defence and security of this country and to working for a stronger world.”

The Prime Minister’s ambiguity comes as computer billionaire and philanthropist Bill Gates says the Brexit vote must not be used as an excuse for Britain to drop its aid commitments.

Speaking in an exclusive interview with The Independent, the world’s richest man said: “We are hopeful that the commitment to 0.7 per cent – and things like neglected diseases – stays strong.”

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