British MPs: Foreign aid cuts betray world's poorest

British government says budget cuts are necessary to redress record borrowing

IDLIB, SYRIA - FEBRUARY 21: Displaced Syrian children gather to receive humanitarian aid supplied by an NGO on February 21, 2020 in Idlib, Syria. Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in a speech Tuesday threatened, “imminent operations in Syria’s Idlib if Damascus fails to withdraw behind Turkish positions” The threat comes after Syria’s government and its ally Russia rejected demands to pull back to ceasefire lines agreed upon in the 2018 Sochi accord. More than 900,000 civilians have been displaced by fighting in or around Idlib since December 1. Idlib is the last rebel stronghold of fighters trying to overthrow Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and in the past years has become the last safe haven for civilians displaced by fighting in other areas of Syria, its population has doubled to close to three million people, many of whom are now fleeing the government offensive towards overcrowded camps close to the Turkish border amid freezing conditions, creating a humanitarian disaster. (Photo by Burak Kara/Getty Images)

British MPs have accused the government of "doing a runner" on the world's poorest people by slashing foreign aid.

The latest criticism of the move came during an emergency debate on Britain’s decision to cut its support for international development programmes from 0.7 to 0.5 per cent of national income.

Sir Lindsay Hoyle, Speaker of the House of Commons, on Monday ruled that an attempt by rebel Tory MPs to amend an unrelated science bill to force the government into an about-turn was "out of scope".

He urged ministers to provide the opportunity for MPs to vote on the cuts but the government appears to have no plans to do so.

It said the cuts, worth about £4 billion ($5.66bn), were temporary and necessary given Britain's record levels of borrowing during the pandemic.

But Andrew Mitchell, a former international development minister leading the rebellion, said on Tuesday that the cuts were a betrayal and potentially illegal.

He said a "whole generation of young people is watching this government break its promise to the world's poorest", with Britain the only G7 country to cut aid before this week's summit.

“It’s like buying a car and shaking hands on £15,000, only to do a runner while the poor fellow is counting the cash after you’ve legged it, having handed over only £10,000,” he told MPs.

“It’s not proper and it’s fundamentally un-British and we shouldn’t behave in this way.”

Mr Mitchell said Britain was cutting support for programmes that included the supply of clean water, treatment for HIV-Aids and food programmes.

“These are not people who have missed eating for a few days, these are people who are starving and we are going to cut our support for these people,” he said.

Dozens of charities and the UN criticised the UK, saying that the cuts would cost lives.

The main opposition Labour Party said the aid reduction undermined Britain’s global influence.

“These cuts are an insult to British people and our proud tradition of showing humanity and leadership on the world stage,” shadow international development secretary Preet Gill said.

“As the only G7 nation to cut aid and the third-lowest donor this year, this signals retreat.”

Stephen Barclay, Chief Secretary to the Treasury, said the government was in a “hugely difficult economic and fiscal situation”.

“Last year saw the highest peacetime levels of borrowing on record,” he said.

“Without corrective action, borrowing would continue at untenable levels, leaving underlying debt rising indefinitely.

"Loading ourselves with more debt now might damage our ability to spend more on aid in the future.”

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