Whilst we don’t really know the full extent of the outcome of Brexit yet, a lot has come to the surface about its impact on foreign aid. Not least of the all the devaluation of the pound reducing the value of aid by roughly $1.9 billion, with the combined cost of loss to developing countries through aid, trade and remittances estimated to be $3.8 billion. And as each episode of this daily soap drama unfolds, new plot-lines are emerging. As it stands, the outlook for foreign aid is looking less certain than it did under the reigns of David Cameron, whose legacy saw the UK pass a bill that enshrined in law its commitment to spend 0.7% of its gross national income (GNI) on aid every year leading to a 144% increase over a decade.
However, the first days of Theresa May’s time in power as the UK’s second woman PM have not indicated a favourable path ahead for foreign aid, or environmental issues. She came under fire for ‘closing’ the Department of Climate Change which will now be merged into an expanded Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, seemingly deprioritising the environmental agenda. However, whilst Ed Miliband described the move as “plain stupid”, the head of this new department Greg Clark claims he will be “furthering our world-class science base, delivering affordable, clean energy and tackling climate change." Others remain sceptical with Green party MP Caroline Lucas saying: “Dealing with climate change requires a dedicated minister at the cabinet table. To throw it into the basement of another Whitehall department looks like a serious backward step.”
Another cause for concern to emerge in the past days has been the appointment of Priti Patel to the head of the Department for International Development (DfID). A woman whose compassion and concern for human rights has been questioned by her call to bring back capital punishment. Whilst this is troubling within itself, perhaps cause for greater concern where foreign aid is concerned was her previous suggestion that DfID should be folded into the Department for International Trade and Development, turning its focus towards “greater trade and private sector investment” whilst also claiming it was a “low priority” and that the department “abused and misspent in so many ways”. It sounds like she has set her own challenge here. Let’s hope she can rectify this abuse of spending….if she doesn’t shut her own department down first.
In actual fact, as reported in the Independent by Diane Abbott (my own local MP for those who like their blogs to come with a dash of intimate detail), British aid has been one of the greatest contributors towards assisting the world’s poorest. It has helped strengthened health systems across the developing world, contributing to a 53.5 per cent reduction in child mortality between 1990 and 2015. It has been estimated that this has helped saved a total of 6.8 million lives. Britain is also among the biggest contributors in aid to eradicating malaria, which is on track to being eliminated by 2040.
A deprioritisation of international aid and global issues, along with trying to strengthen its border control, and the appointment of BoJo the Clown as the comical face of the Foreign Office (see this map for reference of his ‘qualifications’), the future of the UK’s foreign relationships looks set to be shaky. Whilst the initial ‘world is ending’ shock of the Brexit result has subsided, the actual first steps taken do not appear to be moving in the right direction with a feeling that Britain’s bridges to the world are slowly being burned leaving it the small and isolated island that it is. However, it’s still early days so no need to go back to Netflix just yet, the Brexit drama is still unfolding so stay tuned for more.