UK Labour vows to restore development aid spending

David Lammy pledges increase in foreign aid and a new security pact with EU

The British Labour Party has pledged to restore spending on foreign aid to previous levels if elected. AFP PHOTO/Farooq NAEEM (Photo by FAROOQ NAEEM / AFP)
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Britain's shadow foreign secretary has pledged to restore development aid spending if the opposition Labour Party gains power.

David Lammy gave a speech on Tuesday at Chatham House in London to set out the party's foreign policy goals. He said in discussions afterwards that the party was committed to restoring foreign aid to previous levels after the present government slashed the budget.

"We are committed to development aid and getting back to 0.7 per cent as soon as possible," he said.

"We are determined to win power in 2024, but in a cost of living crisis with inflation rising it would be irresponsible to set out our spending at this stage. What we have is our commitment to development spending."

In 2020, the UK's leading Conservative government announced it would cut spending on foreign aid from 0.7 per cent of gross national income to 0.5 per cent because of pressure caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

The move came despite the 0.7 per cent pledge for official development assistance being written into law.

In its review of the decision, the National Audit Office had concluded the move “disproportionately affected” bilateral programmes.

When asked about rejoining the EU, Mr Lammy categorically ruled it but said the party wished to "normalise" the UK's relationship with the EU and wanted to create a new security pact.

"We are going to normalise relations...we are not re-entering the EU," he said.

He said a future Labour government would restore Britain’s “tarnished” reputation when it came to respecting the rule of law.

“As a lawyer, and with a boss who is a lawyer, the rule of law will be at the heart of our approach to foreign policy," he said.

“Britain’s record of respect for the rule of law has become tarnished — through the Overseas Operations Bill, the Internal Markets Bill, the Protocol Bill, and two prime ministers fined for breaking the law.

“This record damages our moral authority and political credibility…. it is unbefitting of this great country.

“Britain should be a country that keeps its word. And let me tell you, with Keir Starmer – Kings Council – as Prime Minister, he would keep his.”

He said Labour wanted to build a new relationship with the E3 with France and Germany and was committed to "restoring the bonds" with the EU.

Setting out a mission statement, he said Labour's five goals included building stronger armed forces, improve industry for the future, reconnect on climate action and international development and rebuild trusted relationships.

He said “ideological leadership and reckless choices” of leaving the UK has left the nation “increasingly disconnected from its closest allies”.

In his address he said he hoped to reorientate the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO).

The policies – part of Labour’s Britain Reconnected, For Security And Prosperity At Home contract with voters – are expected to give the department the “clarity of purpose it currently lacks”, the party said.

The proposals include working more closely with the European Union on security, boosting trade in the “industries of the future” and restoring Britain’s “soft power”, Mr Lammy said.

The FCDO has come under fire for its part in the botched withdrawal from Afghanistan in 2021, while Foreign Secretary-led talks with the EU on changing the Northern Ireland Protocol have dragged on for years.

"The UK is home to cutting-edge technology and services, world-leading universities, vibrant cultural industries, and it has the potential for unparalleled global connections," he said.

“Labour will reset our foreign policy to create a Britain Reconnected, for security and prosperity at home.

“With the right priorities, the right partnerships and the right values, Britain can, and will, thrive.”

The first priority, related to UK security, vows to seek a new UK-EU security pact and create a Joint FCDO-Home Office State Threats Cell to assess dangers, challenge hostile actors and “improve resilience in both government and private sector”.

The second is about championing UK prosperity, which Labour said will focus on fixing the Northern Ireland Protocol and driving up trade in burgeoning industries while also bolstering exports.

Labour said its third policy is related to turning climate change response into “an engine of growth”, the fourth on “rebuilding” Britain’s reputation on international development and the fifth will push for the UK to “re-establish” itself as a “trusted, reliable and influential partner” when it comes to diplomacy.

Updated: January 24, 2023, 4:39 PM