UK foreign aid budget could be temporarily slashed by £4billion due to coronavirus

Boris Johnson is said to be looking at the drastic plan ahead of next week’s spending review

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Britain’s foreign aid budget could be temporarily slashed in a move that would cut off billions of pounds to the world’s poorest countries.

Plans have been drawn up to reduce the budget from 0.7% to 0.5% of national income – more than £4billion – according to The Times.

Any change could be formally confirmed in Chancellor Rishi Sunak ’s spending review next week.

Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick confirmed it was a “legitimate question” and would be a decision for the Chancellor.

It comes despite Tory Prime Ministers repeatedly refusing calls from right-wingers and backbenchers to slash the aid budget.

Aid money includes helping people in refugee camps (stock photo)

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Sticking to the 0.7% commitment in 2017, Theresa May said: “I’m very proud of the record we have, of the children around the world who are being educated as a result of what the British taxpayer is doing in terms of international aid.”

But Mr Jenrick said the UK’s public finances were now in the “worst position they’ve been in in my lifetime” after spending more than £200bn on the coronavirus response.

He told LBC Radio: “I think we’ll have to consider it carefully.

“What is undoubtedly true is we’ve spent hundreds of billions of pounds this year in order to protect the British public as best we can from the effects of coronavirus.

“So the public finances are in their worst position they’ve been in in my lifetime so difficult choices are necessary.

Robert Jenrick said: "The public finances are in their worst position they’ve been in in my lifetime so difficult choices are necessary"
(Image: PA)

“And so the Chancellor will have to think very carefully about whether this is something he wants to deploy at this unique time.”

He said the UK must play its role in the international community, but added: “There’s a legitimate choice for the UK as to whether in the immediate situation we find ourselves in, we want to consider our options.”

Asked if he could support an aid spending cut he replied: “I think it is a legitimate question for us to be asking at this moment in time whether or not it would be wise to spend somewhat less in light of the fact the public finances are in a really challenging situation.

“And that’s a choice the Chancellor will have to make in the next few weeks.”

A Treasury official did not deny the report but declined to comment on speculation about fiscal events.

The UK has already said it would be cutting its global aid budget by £2.9 billion this year due to the economic hit of the coronavirus crisis, but that the 0.7% commitment towards international development would still be met.

The spending on Official Development Assistance was set to be £15.8 billion this year before the Covid-19 crisis emerged.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson wants the cut to last no longer than a year, the Times reported.

Foreign secretary Dominic Raab, when taking the helm of the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office in September, said the Government was "absolutely" committed to the 0.7% target.

The gross national income of the UK in 2019 was £2.17 trillion, meaning a drop from 0.7% to 0.5% would account for more than £4 billion.

The 0.7% target was first agreed by the United Nations in 1970, and the UK Government has met the target since 2013. It was enshrined into law in 2015.

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