The U.K. government has dropped its strongest hint yet that it could push through massive cuts to its aid programs without parliamentary approval.
Damian Green, a veteran former Conservative Party minister, asked in Parliament if the government could make a commitment that “further cuts [after those for Yemen] won’t be made until that necessary legislation promised by ministers to this house to enact this policy has been put to a vote so that this house can express a view.”
But Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office Minister James Cleverly suggested this would not be the case.
He replied: “The foreign secretary, as I have said, is looking carefully at the requirements of the legislation. I can assure [Green] from this position in the dispatch box the government is well able to listen to the mood of the House [of Commons] without the need for legislation on this issue.”
Why does it matter? The government promised to pose legislation to allow the aid budget to be reduced from 0.7% of gross national income to 0.5% when it announced the cuts in November. Members of Parliament, such as Green, are now demanding a vote before other aid programs are cut.
But the government has not been clear on when it will bring the new legislation — perhaps because of the prospect of a parliamentary rebellion — and the legality of proceeding with the reductions without MPs’ approval has been questioned. Green, echoing former government lawyer Lord Edward Garnier, said existing legislation does not allow the government to miss the 0.7% target indefinitely.
Aid transparency campaigners expressed concern about Cleverly’s comments. “We’re only just getting used to a complete absence of transparency regarding how cuts are being made. Now it sounds like the overarching legal, policy, and strategic decisions are being made without transparency also,” said Gary Forster, chief executive at Publish What You Fund, an aid transparency campaign group.