It’s like an episode of Queer Eye. The Daily Mail has a history of bad haircuts and dated fashion takes, so the UK newspaper had been crying out for a makeover for ages. And why not from somebody known for, among other things, a forthright sense of style?
The transformation played out on Wednesday across the tabloid’s very own front page. Theresa May — former prime minister and Conservative MP — penned an article dressing down her successor Boris Johnson for abandoning Britain’s "global moral leadership”.
It had to do with the UK government’s recent decision to cut the lifesaving UK aid budget — the only pot of government money dedicated to global social justice and reducing extreme poverty around the world.
For all her controversies, May defended UK aid throughout her premiership, publicly recommitting to Britain’s legal requirement to invest at least 0.7% of gross national income (GNI) into the budget.
When she stepped down as prime minister in 2019, it looked like that legacy would be continued. Johnson promised to maintain that spending threshold when he ran to be leader of the Conservative Party, a platform that saw him elected in July 2019. It was a pledge repeated in the manifesto that won him a landslide general election victory that December.
But it took less than a year for the new government to reverse those promises, turning the country’s back on the world’s poorest people by cutting the aid budget by billions — all amid the COVID-19 pandemic, a crisis that could push hundreds of millions more into extreme poverty.
Prior to the aid cuts, just 7p in every £10 of taxpayers’ money went to aid spending. But even that small fraction has helped lift millions of people out of poverty. The UK aid budget had already shrunk in line with the falling economy — because the aid budget reflects GNI, when Britain is poorer, it automatically spends less on aid.
But in November 2020, the aid budget was slashed even further — with the UK government announcing that the 0.7% target was being reduced to 0.5% — a cut of £4.2 billion in 2021 alone. That’s all while an extra £16.5 billion was approved to spend on defence.
And according to Bond, the UK network for international development nonprofits, that would carry a real human cost: 105,000 lives won’t be saved without that funding, while 1 million fewer children will have their education supported; 7.6 million fewer women and girls will be reached with modern methods of contraception; and 5.6 million fewer children each year will be immunised against deadly diseases.
Theresa May attacks Boris Johnson whose decisions on cutting aid and threatening to go back on the EU-UK trade treaty “were not actions which ... raised our credibility in the eyes of the world” pic.twitter.com/FIfkWz5Y68— Sam Coates Sky (@SamCoatesSky) January 19, 2021
Ahead of a vote in parliament about the aid cuts — likely to take place in February — May wrote in the Daily Mail article about how, if the aid budget cuts go ahead, it means that Britain is shying away from its chance to make the world a safer place.
“To lead we must live up to our values,” May wrote in the Daily Mail. “Threatening to break international law by going back on a treaty we had just signed, and abandoning our position of global moral leadership as the only major economy to meet both the 2% defence spending target and the 0.7% international aid target were not actions which, in my view, raised our credibility in the eyes of the world.”
“Other countries listen to what we say, not simply because of who we are, but because of what we do,” she continued. “The world does not owe us a prominent place on its stage. Whatever the rhetoric we deploy, it is our actions which count. So, we should do nothing which signals a retreat from our global commitments.”
The UK will host the G7 Summit in Cornwall this year — and in November, the largest climate conference since the 2015 Paris Agreement, called COP26, will come to Glasgow. Both will serve as significant indicators of how “global” the post-Brexit Britain truly intends to be.
Join us in calling on the prime minister to reverse his decision to cut aid by sending an urgent tweet to Boris Johnson now. Help us tell him what the UK really stands for.