As the annual appropriations battle heats up in the United Kingdom, the country’s former aid chief is calling on lawmakers to help promote its ringfenced budget for international development cooperation.
The call by Andrew Mitchell comes as Treasury chief George Osborne finalizes next fiscal year’s budget, which begins April 1.
In his autumn statement, Osborne “promised to honor” the United Kingdom’s commitment to increase foreign aid spending this year to 0.7 percent of gross national income.
“It’s a historic moment for Britain. We should feel proud of that, as a nation, and it’s a proud moment for me as a Conservative,” he said in a recent op-ed. “We have not turned our backs on the poorest countries in these tough times.”
But while there’s strong commitment from U.K. leadership to protect the aid budget from cuts, there’s increasing skepticism among the British public — a trend Mitchell acknowledged in an interview with BBC Radio’s Westminster Hour.
“We need every member of the cabinet explaining to an admittedly skeptical public why this really matters for them, for their children, and for our country, as well as those we’re trying to help,” Mitchell told the broadcaster.
Justine Greening, Mitchell’s successor as secretary of state for international development, did just that earlier this month in a speech outlining her vision for U.K. aid. In that speech, given Feb. 7 in London, Greening reiterated the importance to “drive value for money” in projects funded by the U.K. Department for International Development.
Mitchell’s comments on foreign aid were among his first since leaving his post as development chief in September, when he became chief whip before resigning barely two months later after a reported confrontation with police officers.
“Every single member of the cabinet should be out explaining why we stand by this commitment, why we’re doing it, why it really matters for Britain,” Mitchell told BBC Radio. “Because if they don’t, the public will conclude that this is some sort of detoxification measure for the conservative party. It isn’t.”
Asked how he can justify the government’s aid budget, Mitchell mentioned the U.K.’s leadership on vaccinations and family planning in the past two years.
“As a result [of those priorities], Britain will be vaccinating a child, throughout this parliament, every two seconds, and saving the life of a child every two minutes from diseases that none of our children die from. On the family planning issue, we managed to get everyone to focus on the importance of giving the poorest women in the world the ability to make their own decisions about whether and when they have children,” he said.
“It’s quite right for a skeptical public who are seeing the reductions in public expenditure being made very close to home to say that if money is going to be spent overseas, we need to explain precisely why and what good it is doing. But equally, we have promised the poorest … we will do everything we can to help them. That was a British promise made by all three of the major political parties in Britain, and it’s right that we should stand by that commitment.”
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