LONDON — The U.K. government issued a document on Tuesday detailing plans to maintain U.K. aid cooperation with the EU after it exits the bloc in 2019.
The paper, released by the Department for Exiting the European Union, is scant on figures and makes no explicit commitments regarding the almost 1 billion euros in development and humanitarian aid spent annually through the EU; nor does it commit to specific joint funds or other instruments. However, it describes a strong desire for continued collaboration on aid — particularly on migration — and outlines the U.K.’s hope for a relationship that uses current engagement “as a starting point.”
There has been much speculation — and few clues — about how the U.K. will manage its development cooperation work with the EU after its departure. The EU institutions are the world’s fourth largest bilateral donor, while the U.K. is the third.
The “future partnership paper” is part of a series setting out key issues that “form the government’s vision” for a post-Brexit relationship with the 28-member union. While it does not represent the government’s official position in the Brexit negotiations, it reflects “engagement the government has sought from external parties with expertise in these policy areas,” and constitutes “an essential step” toward building future EU-U.K. coordination, the document states.
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It adds that: “Continued close working with European partners will form an important part of the U.K.’s future international development strategy.”
“Such close collaboration would be on a case-by-case basis and be subject to the U.K.’s standards on full transparency, accountability, risk and assurance, results and value for money.”
In addition, the U.K. government envisages that the partnership will be “underlined and enhanced by the reciprocal exchange of development and humanitarian policy experts.” More than 800 staff are employed by the U.K. government at the European Commission.
For staff working in the field or in consular offices, the paper suggests that the government could offer mutual provision of consular services in third countries where either EU member states or the U.K. lack a diplomatic presence, and “continued co-location of diplomatic premises.”
Despite the lack of detail, the paper takes a firmer line on development spending for migration, stating that the U.K. “will continue its strategic cooperation with the EU on external migration, including with key EU regional frameworks.” The EU’s use of development aid to tackle migration — for example, through the 3 billion euro Emergency Trust Fund for Africa — has been controversial.
Some analysts have suggested the U.K. could continue to contribute to the European Development Fund, a voluntary fund that focuses on providing aid to the countries of Africa, the Caribbean and the Pacific, because the EDF does not form part of the EU’s official budget. Most of the money for the Emergency Trust Fund has so far been drawn from the EDF.
Aid professionals expressed frustration at the lack of detail included in the paper, and stressed the urgency of the EU’s many humanitarian efforts, particularly in Syria and Yemen.
“The government paper provides little clarity on the key development issues raised by Brexit,” Mikaela Gavas, head of programme for the Development Strategy and Finance at the Overseas Development Institute, said in an email.
“There is no indication as to whether the U.K. will continue to support the European Development Fund, work with the EU on joint strategies and programs in developing countries in a long-term systematic way or the future of EU aid to Commonwealth countries,” she continued.
“The U.K. should aim for an international development partnership agreement with the EU, as well as with individual member states, which should include working together on peace, security and development, particularly in fragile countries and situations, leveraging the full arsenal of EU instruments to reduce poverty and suffering around the world,” she said.
A spokesperson for the U.K. Department for International Development said in response to the paper, which it helped to craft, “As we leave the EU, we will continue to work closely with our European partners to eradicate extreme poverty and to build stability and resilience in developing countries.”