Boris Johnson risks trashing Britain’s reputation “across the world” if he cuts the UK’s foreign aid spending, former prime minister Gordon Brown has warned.
Mr Johnson has not denied claims the UK’s aid budget could be slashed in order to help pay for the coronavirus crisis.
It has been reported the government could temporarily cut the UK’s foreign aid spending target from 0.7% to 0.5% of gross national income, following the huge outlay to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic.
This is despite the 0.7% commitment being a Conservative manifesto pledge at last year’s general election.
Chancellor Rishi Sunak is said to be mulling the move ahead of next week’s announcement of his spending review.
Yet, prior to that fiscal statement, both Mr Sunak and the prime minister have already splashed the cash with a £16.5bn boost to defence spending and on a new 10-point plan to tackle climate change.
This has increased suggestions that other Whitehall budgets – including aid spending – could be squeezed in order to fund the move, as well as help balance the public finances amid the coronavirus pandemic.
With the Tories also having promised before the election to increase the defence budget by at least 0.5% above inflation every year, Mr Brown said it would be “a terrible thing that you would break one promise to honour the other promise” in relation to a possible cut in aid spending.
He told Sky News’ Kay Burley: “If we break these promises, we’re not just breaking promises within our own country, we’re breaking promises that will destroy our reputation across the world.
“I want to see the proper spending on defence, but he [Mr Johnson] can’t do it at the expense of cutting another promise that he freely made during the last general election.”
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Mr Brown warned that if the UK’s ability to help African countries battle COVID-19, such as through vaccinations, was hindered then the disease “will come back, through them, into this country”.
He also called on Mr Johnson to consider the impact of any cut to UK foreign aid spending ahead of next year’s G7 summit of world powers, which the prime minister is due to chair.
“You can’t chair the G7 next year – you’ll bring all the world leaders to Britain next year – and you can’t say that this G7 is going to help the rest of the world, if you’re breaking your promises to the world,” he said.