Coronavirus: UK foreign aid spending cut by £2.9bn amid economic downturn

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LONDON: Britain is to cut its global aid budget by £2.9bn this year due to the economic impact of the coronavirus crisis, the government has announced.

It said a review of aid projects has prioritised the most vulnerable countries for assistance. Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said the UK would still meet its commitment to spend 0.7% of gross national income (GNI) on international development.

But MPs criticised the announcement’s timing as Parliament breaks for summer, BBC has reported.

Labour MP Sarah Champion, chairwoman of the Commons International Development Committee, said it was “poor practice” to announce the move on the final day of Parliament before the summer, preventing MPs from asking questions about it.

In a letter to Ms Champion, Mr Raab said the UK was “experiencing a severe economic downturn as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic”.

Despite the reductions, Mr Raab said money spent this year “remains prioritised on poverty reduction”.

He added that aid would also focus on “tackling climate change and reversing biodiversity loss, championing girls’ education, UK leadership in the global response to Covid-19, and campaigning on issues such as media freedom and freedom of religious belief”.

Spending on Official Development Assistance (ODA) was set to be £15.8bn this year, before the Covid-19 crisis emerged.

Mr Raab said spending on ODA would remain at 0.7% of GNI. The foreign secretary suggested the cuts were in anticipation of “potential shrinkage” in the UK economy in the coming months.

He said a £2.9bn package of reductions in the government’s planned foreign aid spending had been identified “so we can proceed prudently for the remainder of 2020”.