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Last week, the government secured the vote to cut foreign aid by nearly £4 billion. The vote was won with 333 votes to 298 and means that now the UK is the only G7 member that has cut aid during the global pandemic.
These cuts will devastate millions and mean that many charities and organisations will have to withdraw support and aid. As a result, campaign group Global Justice Now, has said that MPs now have “blood on their hands”.
Fighting against these dramatic cuts, the charity International Planned Parenthood Foundation (IPPF) has sent a pre-action letter to the government demanding it reverses its position.
This multi-billion pound cut to foreign aid, while hugely disappointing, unfortunately, does not come as a surprise, considering the many U-turns made by the Conservative government.
That said, these cuts directly contradict promises made by the Conservative government, stemming back to 2016. Back then, the government repeatedly pushed the idea of ‘Global Britain’, which of course, like with many buzzwords and campaign slogans, has fallen flat. Johnson boasted the nation is “more outward-looking and more engaged with the world than ever before”. He also said that when it came to ‘Global Britain’, there would be “cynics who say we can’t afford it” I say we can’t afford not to”. Yet, these cuts were announced in November.
Last week, MPs were surprised with the vote, given only 24-hours notice, by which point, whips sprung into action. While at first, it appeared there was going to be a significant backbench rebellion, this was soon quelled with Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s threat of “fiscal consequences” such as tax rises and spending cuts.
In the end, on Tuesday, only 24 Conservative MP’s rebelled. Previously, Sunak had argued the cuts were necessary as he could not “justify” maintaining the foreign aid budget “at a time of unprecedented crisis”. Despite this, Kevan Jones, MP for North Durham, forecast that by 2024/25, the defence budget will increase by 7.5%, reaching £47.4 billion. Equally, as pointed out by Sir John Major, former Prime Minister, the UK “can afford a national yacht that no-one either wants or needs, whilst cutting help to some of the most miserable and destitute people in the world”.
Of course, these foreign aid cuts will have a devastating impact on many people, and many charities have hit out against the government, warning about the effect the cuts will have.
A group of aid agencies working in Bangladesh wrote of their concerns in a private letter sent to Nigel Adams, the UK’s Foreign Office Minister for Asia, last month. In the letter, the group outlined that UK aid cuts of 42% will “leave about 70,000 people without health services and 100,000 without water” in the world’s largest refugee settlement.
Elsewhere, the UN’s family planning agency (UNFPA) forecast in June that proposed cuts will see them lose around 85% of its family planning, while the UN’s children’s fund (Unicef) will decrease by 60%.
Meanwhile, the IPPF, outlined that the cuts mean that it will have to close services in Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Zambia, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Cote D’Ivoire, Cameroon, Uganda, Mozambique, Nepal and Lebanon. Moreover, services may also face closure in an additional nine countries. Globally, 4,500 sexual and reproductive health services will lose support.
These are just a few of the charities and organisations that will face financial challenges and closure as a result of the cuts.
It has also been highlighted by Environmentalist Tom Burke, that the government’s foreign aid cuts will make the country’s chances of Cop26 near impossible.
In a letter to Prime Minister Boris Johnson, charities including Oxfam and ActionAid UK said: “While the other G7 countries have stepped up their aid budget, the UK is the only one to have rowed back on its commitments”.
Conservative MP Tom Tugendhat, chairman of the Commons foreign affairs committee, also warned about the political implications of withdrawing foreign aid. He said: “When Britain withdraws, others step in. By cutting our aid, we have given states such as China and Russia an opportunity to expand their influence at Britain’s expense”.
The IPPF, which provides abortions and other reproductive healthcare in 42 countries, is expected to lose around £14 million over the next three years due to the cuts. Outraged by the decimation of funds and the illegal nature of the cuts, the charity has sent a letter before action to the government.
The IPPF argues that slashing spending to just 0.5% is unlawful. As part of the International Development (Official Development Assistance Target) Act 2015, there is a legally binding target that fixes spending at 0.7%. Further to this, the charity states that the vote was “not capable of legally amending the primary legislation”, which is necessary for making the cuts lawful. Moreover, the charity was given an Accountable Grant Agreement (AGA) with the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office’s (FCDO) for its ACCESS project, which the FCDO has now terminated.
Speaking about the charity’s decision to begin legal action, Dr Alvaro Bermejo, Director-General of the International Planned Parenthood Federation, said: “Since IPPF became aware of the Government’s plans to slash the UK’s aid budget, it has taken every opportunity to demonstrate the unlawfulness of these cuts and the catastrophic impact they will have on millions of women, girls and marginalized people worldwide, and the thousands of lives that will be lost in the process.
He added: “Sadly, the Government has not heeded our warnings, instead choosing to terminate the ACCESS grant. This means IPPF has been forced to send a pre-action letter to the Secretary of State, seeking an urgent review of the decision. We were further disappointed with yesterday’s motion in the House of Commons to introduce long-lasting changes without going through due legislative process. IPPF has not taken this decision lightly. This action is about fighting the injustice of the Government’s ruling on behalf of the women and girls we serve and honouring the intent of IPPF and its member associations.
The charity says that unless the Government “reverses its position”, it will proceed with filing for a judicial review.
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