LONDON — The United Kingdom’s new international development secretary has urged British NGOs receiving funding from the European Union to take up the government’s offer to underwrite existing contracts in the case of a no-deal Brexit.
It comes as NGOs continue to express frustration at the lack of comprehensive information from the government about how they can plan for such an eventuality.
The government’s offer to underwrite EU contracts was made in March in response to fears from U.K. NGOs that they could face a funding cliff edge if the country crashes out of the bloc without a deal. The government has previously estimated the guarantee could amount to around £90 million ($109 million).
However, not all aid groups have yet taken up the offer by filling in the necessary forms, prompting Alok Sharma — who took over as secretary of state for the Department for International Development last month — to write to NGOs on Friday.
In the letter, he urged NGOs to apply for the guarantee before Oct. 31 — the date on which U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said the country will leave the EU with or without a deal.
“I continue to encourage organisations to apply for our financial assurance for any new programme that is agreed. This needs to be done before 31 October this year; this is to prevent any loss of funding to deliver vital programmes,” Sharma said in the letter.
“I reiterate my Department’s support to help you prepare for our departure from the EU later this year,” he added.
Civil society groups have welcomed the financial assurance from DFID but say there is more than funding at stake.
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“The impacts of a no deal Brexit goes beyond the programmes co-funded by the EU, and affects our policy influencing work, our partnerships and position across the world, financial planning, and general operating environment,” said Claire Godfrey, interim director of policy, advocacy and research at Bond, the network of U.K. development NGOs.
“We want to engage with government so they understand the consequences of a Brexit across the breadth of our work so we can mitigate risks, and preferably turn potential crisis into opportunity,” Godfrey added.
In the letter, the new DFID boss also called on aid groups to report cases of EU discrimination against working with British groups, which he said continues to be an issue that the department is “monitoring closely” despite EU assurances that British groups are being treated equally.
Simon Maxwell, senior research associate and former director at the Overseas Development Institute, said Sharma’s emphasis on discrimination by EU insitutions against U.K. NGOs was “notable.” It “might be considered as a contribution to the shouting match across the channel as the deal-no deal crunch approaches,” he told Devex in an email.
Mikaela Gavas, co-director of development cooperation in Europe at the Center for Global Development, told Devex that the “current rhetoric” around a no-deal Brexit, as seen in Sharma’s letter, was “severely hampering the U.K.’s relationship with its EU partners,” and that this could have knock-on effects for NGOs.
“Levels of trust are at an all-time low. This may also affect EU Member State funding for U.K. NGOs,” she said.
DFID first announced it would underwrite EU contracts last year but the offer was highly limited in its scope.
Under pressure from aid groups, it later extended it to also cover contracts with the EU’s humanitarian arm ECHO, as well as those that fall under the European Development Fund and Development Cooperation Instrument, which are managed by the EU’s development arm, DEVCO. The department has since extended the underwrite to apply to “funding applications made up until the last day of the U.K.’s membership of the EU.”
Update Aug 19. 2019: This article has been updated with Mikaela Gavas’ current position.