By David Hooson
With globalism and the UK’s place in the world having become extremely hot topics in the wake of the EU referendum, it is of little surprise that debate and media coverage of international development and foreign aid have skyrocketed. The new Prime Minister’s decision to install a leading Brexiteer, Priti Patel, as International Development Secretary, has only served to push the issue up the agenda and fan the flames of controversy.
Ms. Patel has a track record of being outspoken on the area of government policy she now leads, at one point having called for the Department for International Development to be abolished and its work integrated into the Department for Trade and Industry. That theme continued with her recent comments about ‘wasteful’ and ‘superficial’ aid projects, as well as suggesting foreign aid could be used to help negotiate future international trade deals when the UK leaves the EU.
The use of the UK’s aid budget should be based on nothing more than our moral obligation to help those in need around the world. To attach political strings to aid money or to use it as an economic bargaining tool contravenes the point of its existence.
The UN goal of dedicating 0.7% of gross national income to foreign aid was first suggested in 1969, and a succession of British politicians have pledged their commitment to meeting that target, with Ms. Patel the latest to do so. The principle of this goal is for developed countries to work together to tackle poverty around the world and to respond adequately to humanitarian crises – not to further their own economic objectives. The 0.7% pledge is a rare opportunity for a government to be selflessly outward-looking, and it should be relished as such.
Furthermore, the fate of those bearing the brunt of social or economic injustice should not be determined by the ability or whims of politicians and businesspeople, whose actions they have little or no influence upon. Indeed, it may be the failings of those politicians and businesspeople that have led to such injustice. The availability of aid should always be determined by need, not by backroom deals and political expediency.
The direction Ms. Patel proposes for international development policy is part of a worrying wider trend that could see the UK turn its back on our global moral obligations. We in Wales should be pushing against this trend by remaining inclusive and outward-looking, as well as campaigning and raising awareness on global issues like international development.