UK foreign aid budget cut by £3bn ‘due to COVID-19’ – as MPs leave for summer recess

A cut of nearly £3 billion in the UK’s foreign aid budget – blamed by the government on coronavirus – has sparked a row after it was announced as MPs left Westminster for the summer recess.

Revealing the cut, foreign secretary Dominic Raab said the £15.8bn aid budget – set in law at 0.7% of national income – would have to fall since the economy is shrinking because of COVID-19.

“The UK is experiencing a severe economic downturn as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic,” Mr Raab said on the last day of Commons business – a move MPs said was “poor practice”.

He added: “Given the likely decrease in the size of the economy this year, the prime minister asked me to identify the changes needed to ensure we meet, but do not exceed the 0.7% commitment.

“As this commitment is based on our Gross National Income, when the economy shrinks, our official development assistance spend also reduces.”

Mr Raab’s announcement comes just weeks after Boris Johnson’s controversial decision to axe the International Development Department (DFID) and merge it with Mr Raab’s Foreign Office.

The foreign secretary revealed the reduced aid spending in a letter to Labour MP Sarah Champion, who chairs the soon-to-be-axed International Development Select Committee of MPs.

Mr Raab wrote: “We have been able to ensure that the money we will still spend in 2020 remains prioritised on poverty reduction for the ‘bottom billion’, as well as tackling climate change and reversing biodiversity loss, championing girls’ education, UK leadership in the global response to COVID-19, and campaigning on issues such as media freedom and freedom of religious belief.

“So that we can react to the potential shrinkage in our economy, and therefore a decrease in the value of the 0.7% commitment (which is based on the UK’s GNI), we have identified a £2.9bn package of reductions in the government’s planned ODA spend so we can proceed prudently for the remainder of 2020.”

Condemning the timing of the announcement, Ms Champion said: “The announcement today raises more questions than it answers.

“The letter speaks of delaying activity and stopping some spending – what is the timescale on this?

“If it is with immediate effect, do the projects know or will they find out via the media as DFID staff did about the merger? Is there an overarching strategy in place?

“Will the evaluation of the impact of these cuts be made public? Where is the scrutiny?

“Clearly there has been no consultation, but to release this news literally as Parliament rises so there can be no scrutiny by MPs is poor practice.”

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