'CABINET SPLIT OPENS UP OVER FOREIGN AID SPENDING'
By Gordon Rayner, Political Editor
Telegraph Online – 16 April 2017
A Cabinet split has opened up over plans to cut foreign aid spending to free up more money to keep Britain safe. Ministers have urged Theresa May to drop Britain’s commitment to spending 0.7 per cent of national income on helping poorer countries, and have proposed diverting money to a new combined defence and security budget. They want to see the current defence budget, which amounts to 2 per cent of Gross National Income (GNI), increased to 3 per cent. It would be justified by arguing that money spent on helping trouble spots to fight terrorism should count as foreign aid.
The UK – the world’s third-biggest donor – spends £13 billion per year on aid, and the Prime Minister has stood by the spending commitment despite pressure to reduce it following a series of scandals over where the money goes. Some ministers believe Britain is doing more than its fair share when it comes to helping poorer countries, and point to the fact that the average spend by other wealthy nations is just 0.4 per cent of GNI. America spends just 0.18 per cent.
They have discussed the idea of reducing the aid budget as one of a series of bold measures that could be introduced in the Conservative manifesto for the 2020 general election. Philip Hammond, the Chancellor, has already indicated that the law requiring 0.7 per cent of GNI to be spent on aid will be reviewed before 2020, as part of a re-examination of all areas of spending.
Mrs May, however, has made it clear that she is a supporter of the 0.7 per cent spending pledge and remains “fully committed” to it. Priti Patel, the International Development Secretary, also sees the commitment as a key part of the post-Brexit “global Britain” brand.
One suggestion discussed among ministers is that the 0.7 per cent aid commitment could be replaced by a pledge that 3 per cent of GNI is spent on “security” instead. That would allow the Ministry of Defence, the Department for International Development and the Foreign Office to collaborate on helping to shore up security in countries which foster terrorism.
A Whitehall source explained:
“A lot of the world’s biggest problems, such as disease, mass migration and terrorism, are incubated in countries affected by conflict, such as Somalia, Yemen and South Sudan.
“By shoring up security in those countries, you can help to prevent those problems at source, and 50 per cent of DfID’s aid money already goes to those countries.”
Dr Julian Lewis, chairman of the Defence Select Committee, said:
“I would be delighted if this is the first indication that we might see 3 per cent spending on defence. As recently as 1996, the year before Tony Blair became Prime Minister, 3 per cent was the defence spend, so it is a perfectly reasonable suggestion.
“What might happen is that the foreign aid budget would fall and some of that would be released to the defence budget.
“We are overspending on aid anyway, so there ought to be reductions. We keep hearing stories about desperate bureaucrats trying to find ways of spending a fixed sum of money they are obliged to dispose of.”
Sources within DfID pointed out that the department and the Foreign Office already share responsibility for a conflict, security and stability fund that spends money in Syria, Afghanistan and other countries that constitute a threat to the UK.
There is cross-party support for the 0.7 per cent spending pledge, which was enshrined in UK law in 2015, having been a target established by the United Nations in 1970. Even if Mrs May wanted to change it she might struggle to get such a controversial measure through Parliament.
The alternative would be to persuade the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) which defines what can and cannot be classified as official development assistance, to change its rules to allow more spending on security.
A Government spokesperson said:
“This is pure speculation. As a global, outward looking country we take our international responsibilities seriously and remain fully committed to them.”
* * *
‘AID PLEDGE MAY BE DITCHED TO BOOST DEFENCE SPENDING’ [EXTRACTS]
Tory manifesto for 2020 could also scrap pension ‘triple lock’
By Tim Shipman, Political Editor
Sunday Times – 16 April 2017
Cabinet ministers are plotting to axe Britain’s pledge to spend 0.7% of national income on foreign aid so they can promise in the next Tory election manifesto to divert more cash to the armed forces. Under sweeping plans being mapped out for 2020, Downing Street also wants to scrap the Fixed Term Parliaments Act, which sets the time between general elections at five years and robs prime ministers of the freedom to call a vote at a time of their choosing. Senior Conservatives say a decision has also been taken “in principle” to scrap the pensions “triple lock” guarantee because it is too expensive.
All three proposals are likely to generate significant opposition but are under consideration for the manifesto if the Tories remain in a commanding position in the polls and are confident they can take bold measures. They have been discussed by several cabinet ministers in recent weeks as part of “blue sky thinking” ahead of the next election.
Under one plan being advanced, the law guaranteeing that 0.7% of national income is spent on aid would be replaced with one guaranteeing that a total of 3% was spent on “security” instead. At the same time, ministers would drum up international support for a change in the definition of aid spending – rules policed by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development – so that aid money could be diverted to pay for non-aggressive military spending where Britain has a security interest.
“We need to spend more aid money in fragile African states where instability leads to large numbers of migrants or the spread of extremism and terrorism to Europe,”
said one minister.
The Department for International Development (DfID) already spends half its budget in so-called fragile states but ministers believe there is an appetite in other countries dealing with the migration crisis to redraw the rules so more can be spent on military operations to support refugees.
A 3% security pledge – which has been advanced by the Defence Select Committee – would go further than the 2% currently committed to defence spending and would allow the Ministry of Defence to share more funds with DfID.
Tearing up the aid pledge is regarded as popular with working-class voters who voted to leave in the EU referendum and whom May is hoping to lure away from Ukip and Labour in 2020, but it will be met with resistance from Priti Patel, the international development secretary, who believes the pledge is a key to the UK’s “global Britain” brand after Brexit.
Officials in the Downing Street policy unit and the Conservative Research Department are beginning to look at options for the manifesto so that policies can be road-tested. Downing Street is adamant that the prime minister has no intention of calling an election before 2020 – because she believes it will be disruptive and because she has pledged not to do so. But her closest advisers want more flexibility after 2020. They believe the fixed-term act is the worst piece of legislation introduced by David Cameron, her predecessor.
“It was constitutional change with long-lasting effect that was basically designed to protect the coalition,”
a senior No 10 source said.
“That’s a bad reason to play around with the constitution ... It’s really un-British.”
There is also support in the Treasury and the Department for Work and Pensions for the abolition of the triple-lock pensions pledge – which guarantees pensioners an annual rise in line with inflation, the increase in average earnings, or 2.5%, whichever is highest. In conversations with external experts, Conservative advisers have said the triple lock is “too expensive” and will be scrapped in the manifesto …