The Race Is on for the Tory Leadership. Here’s What the Competitors Think About UK Aid.
The field is getting pretty packed — but where do they all stand on the aid budget?
Since Prime Mininster Theresa May announced her resignation on May 24 there has been no short supply of Conservative MPs vying to replace her.
As of Monday, there are 10 candidates in the running to take on the Conservative party leadership — but the past couple of weeks have been fraught with leadership potentials announcing their intention to run, or removing themselves from the lineup.
It’s expected that the new leader of the Conservatives — and new British Prime Minister — will be announced by the week beginning July 22. May will continue on as prime minister until the new candidate is chosen.
Of course, Brexit and the potential solutions are a key talking point, but to be honest, we’re much more interested in what all of the candidates have to say about the life-saving UK aid budget.
In 2015, the UK passed a bill that enshrined into law a commitment to spend 0.7% of its gross national income (GNI) on aid every year — the first G7 country to meet the UN’s aid spending target.
That funding goes to supporting the world’s poorest people, focusing on poverty alleviation. It provides both emergency supplies in conflict areas or following a natural disaster; and it supports more long-term efforts for things like universal healthcare, education and employment, economic development, and gender equality, among other issues.
So here they are, the Conservative leadership candidates and what they think about UK aid.
1. Boris Johnson
He’s previously been a foreign secretary and the mayor of London, and now Johnson is considered the favourite by many in the leadership race.
In terms of UK aid and international development, he has publicly called for the UK’s Department for International Development (DfID) — which oversees the aid budget spend — to be closed, and instead merged with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.
“If ‘Global Britain’ is going to achieve its full and massive potential then we must bring back DfID to the FCO,” he told the Financial Times in an interview in January. “We can’t keep spending huge sums of British taxpayers’ money as though we were some independent Scandinavian NGO.”
He further backed a report, published in February and entitled Global Britain: A Blueprint for the 21st Century, that sparked concern in the humanitarian sector after it called to scrap the internationally-agreed definitions of how aid funding can be spent.
In response to the report, Bond, a UK network of NGOs, said in a statement: “This approach risks severely undermining UK development efforts, particularly in the world’s poorest countries, and would in fact serve to weaken the UK’s global influence.”
When it comes to the 0.7% commitment, he’s said that the “present system is leading to inevitable waste as money is shoved out of the door in order to meet the 0.7% target.”
This month, in an op-ed for the Telegraph, he wrote: "We should use some of our development funds to boost biodiversity and prevent the current catastrophic loss of species; but above all we should be using that DfID money to back to brilliant British technology that can help tackle the environmental problems of the world."
2. Dominic Raab
The MP for Esher and Walton, Raab was appointed to the cabinet last summer, and was in the role of Brexit secretary for just over four months.
Raab has, similar to Johnson, also suggested that the Department for International Development along with the Department for International Trade be merged back into the Foreign Office to help “cut the number of government departments.”
3. Jeremy Hunt
The current foreign secretary has referred to the 0.7% commitment as a symbol of the UK’s commitment to soft power — and in an interview in April he described himself as a “big supporter” of the target.
He did the interview with the Today programme from Africa, while on a 5-day visit to five nations across the continent. He described the main purpose of the visit as being to “change the motor of our relationship with African countries from one based on aid to one based on enterprise and prosperity.”
“I’m a big supporter of the 0.7% [aid] target and there are many African countries where that is desperately needed, like the Democratic Republic of Congo with its Ebola outbreak,” he added.
On Monday, officially launching his campaign, Hunt tweeted his pledge to "increase the percentage of our GDP we spend on defencce alongside maintaining our commitment to 0.7% on international development."
4. Esther McVey
McVey, the former work and pensions secretary and MP for Tatton, has called for UK aid spending to be cut with funding to instead go to policing and schools in Britain.
She has suggested the aid budget be cut back to 2010 levels, which would effectively cut the budget by about £7 billion.
“By doing this we would be doing more than making up the shortfall here and there,” she said. “We would be providing transformative funds which communities will feel.”
It’s reportedly her belief that this move would satisfy the voters who believe in the value of aid, while also providing funding for other areas.
5. Rory Stewart
The former environment and prisons minister has been newly appointed to the role of international development secretary — meaning that he’s now in charge of how the majority of the UK’s aid budget is spent.
And he’s described the 0.7% target as “hugely important.”
“We have to come out of Brexit, proud global Britain,” he told ITV’s Robert Peston in May. “Obviously we are going through a difficult stage, our relationship with Europe is difficult, we’re going to have to make a new relationship with the world. And having some money to do it, some resources to do it — to put Britain on the world stage again — is hugely important.”
“The work that DfID does internationally is right at the heart of it,” he said. “I would argue that spending, not 7%, not 1%, but 0.7% of your GDP [sic] on that kind of issue really makes a difference, not just to the planet but to you and me.”
He also believes that the current climate crisis is among the most important challenges for the Department for International Development right now — and just last week said he wants to double the UK aid funding for efforts tackling the climate crisis and its impact.
He reportedly wants the funding to be spent on issues like protecting rainforests, supporting endangered species, and university research into new forms of renewable energy, according to Business Green.
“Quite literally the ice shelf is going 10 times more quickly than people expected, we are about to lose maybe a million species on Earth, and that is even before you count the fact that 100 million more people will be in poverty unless we tackle this,” he said. “We have to tackle this.”
6. Matt Hancock
The current health secretary Hancock gave a speech this month at the Policy Exchange, confirming that he supports and "will uphold the longstanding principle of spending 0.7% of GDP [sic] on international development."
7. Michael Gove
According to the environment secretary, he's "always believed that Britain should play a big role on the world stage."
It's for this reason, he says, that he's a "supporter of maintaining 0.7% of our economy being spent on international development."
But of course, with so many other talking points for leadership candidates, not all of them have spoken out yet about what they think of the UK aid budget. Here are the remainder of the leadership candidates, who we’re hoping will reveal more about their stance on aid spending:
- Andrea Leadsom, MP for South Northamptonshire and former leader of the House of Commons
- Sajid Javid, home secretary
- Mark Harper, MP for the Forest of Dean and former chief whip
According to reports on Tuesday, the 1922 Committee of the Conservative Party has agreed a rule change to help cut down the number of leadership candidates quickly.
It’s reported that candidates will need at least 16 votes from other Conservative MPs to stay in on the first round, and 32 votes to stay in on the second. There are 313 Conservative MPs, and they’ll continue to vote until there are just two candidates left, according to ITV.
Then, once the final two leadership candidates have been chosen by Tory MPs, the final choice of leader will be made by all members of the Conservatives.
Out of the running:
Gyimah dropped out of the contest on Monday night, shortly before the deadline for each of the candidates to submit the necessary eight nominiations, after failing to get sufficient backing from his fellow MPs.
Although the former universities minister hasn’t publicly spoken on the issue of UK aid spending, we spoke to Gyimah at the 2018 Conservative Party Conference to get his thoughts.
“We can use our aid to make a tremendous difference to the world around us,” he said. “Whether it’s women’s education, whether it’s poverty, whether it’s disease, we can make a real difference.”