BBC Newsnight: ‘Despotic regimes’ taking advantage of British foreign aid

Foreign aid: Sarah Champion hits out at 'really bad investments'

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The Government’s decision to cut funding for overseas aid last November due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic has been met with harsh criticism but officials from the Foreign and Commonwealth Development Office (FDCO) said the decision was “tough but necessary”. Speaking on BBC Newsnight, Ian Birrell, Contributing Editor at the Mail on Sunday claimed a lot of the Government’s foreign aid ends up in the wrong place.

He said: “A lot of the aid we’re giving away, we’re giving to despotic regimes, we’re propping up some of the worst governments in the world and we’re giving it to countries with bigger economies than our own.

“All we’re doing is exacerbating the problems and allowing those governments not to respond to the people on the ground, the people in need, but allowing them to put it in Swiss bank accounts, to wash it through our own tax havens and to buy weapons.

“We’re making the situation worse.”

Last year the Government announced it would slash UK aid from 0.7 per cent of national income to just 0.5 per cent – a reduction of more than £4billion.

The decision goes against the Government’s 2019 general election promise to maintain the aid target.

Mr Birrell claimed the target was “completely anachronistic in the modern world.”

A leaked document published in The Telegraph, prepared for FCDO minister Wendy Morton, suggested spending on water, sanitation and hygiene were all receiving cuts.

Citing a water aid scheme, Mr Birrell alleged that within a project that cost £25.6 million, a staggering £16.8 was spent on consultants.

He added that that particular scheme which set out to help around 15,000 households only helped 370.

Mr Birrell also claimed that the budget cut equated to less than half the rise in Official Development Assistance (ODA) given away around the world last year.

He added: “It’s a miniscule amount compared to what’s given away, and even some of the countries we’re giving aid to actually give away more than we give them to other countries in aid.

“It’s become an absurdity.”

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Sarah Champion, Chair of International Development Select Committee, who also spoke on the show agreed that there had been some bad investments over the years but added that enhanced scrutiny has eliminated a lot of anomalies.

She added: “We [the UK] are recognised as a soft-power-super-power that gets us a seat on almost every table and as we’re looking to reposition Britain post Brexit, to lose that, to give that away, just seems absolutely bonkers to me.”

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