Conservative manifesto 2017: Tories open door to changing definition of international aid

Manifesto raises fears Theresa May's party intends to prevent money going to world's poorest

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Theresa May has opened the door to changing the definition of foreign aid while continuing to meet the 0.7 per cent target, raising fears funds will be diverted from some of the world’s poorest.

Despite reports of an internal battle within the Conservative party over whether to drop Britain’s spending commitment, the Prime Minister quashed speculation last month, saying the UK would honour the UN-backed target.

But the party’s manifesto – published on Thursday - adds Britain will attempt to renegotiate the rules of development assistance. “If that does not work, we will change the law to allow us to use a better definition of development spending, while continuing to meet our 0.7 per cent target,” the manifesto adds.

Last year ministers were accused of planning to privatise much of the aid budget, after unveiling plans to funnel the money through its private equity arm. 

The manifesto states: “There are still ways that we can improve the way taxpayers’ money is used to help the world’s most vulnerable people. We do not believe that international definitions of development assistance always help in determining how much money should be spent, on whom and for what purpose.

“So we will work with like-minded countries to change the rules so that they are updated and better reflect the breadth our assistance around the world. If that does not work, we will change the law to allow us to use a better definition of development spending, while continuing to meet our 0.7 per cent target."

It adds that Britain’s commitment protects the countries interests by “building a safer, healthier, more prosperous world” and that the party “will maintain the commitment to spend 0.7 per cent of our gross national income on assistance to developing nations and international emergencies".

Kate Osamor, Labour’s Shadow International Development Secretary said the move represented a “deeply alarming shift away from the cross-party consensus on international development”.

She continued: “This manifesto shows the Tories’ commitment to the 0.7 per cent target is increasingly meaningless, with no commitment to maintain an independent Department for International Development and a clear intention to walk away from the internationally recognised standard on what constitutes aid.

“They have been cutting the aid budget by stealth for years. But abandoning the OECD definition is completely at odds with our international obligations and simply unacceptable. It would undermine the 0.7 per cent commitment and send a terrible signal to the rest of the world.”

Mike Penrose, the executive director of Unicef UK, said “now more than ever, the UK needs to show that remain an influential and positive voice in the world”

He added: “It speaks to the British character that the main parties have kept the promise on aid spending. UK aid is among the most effective in the world, protecting 20 million children from deadly diseases last year alone. The British public expect our aid to be spent on the children and families who need it most, so it is vital that the UK continues to respect the international rules that ensure this.

The manifesto also commits the UK to significantly increase funding of UK-led medical and technical research into the biggest threats to global health and prosperity. 

The aid target of spending 0.7 per cent of GNI on development assistance is unpopular with some right-wing newspapers and politicians, but was supported by David Cameron’s government as a way of helping the poorest.

Speaking to reporters after visiting a toothpaste factory in her Maidenhead constituency last month, the Prime Minister confirmed her party would stick to the pledge, but added: “What we need to do though is to look at how that money is spent."

It comes after Bill Gates urged Ms May to keep up the 0.7% target, telling The Independent in an interview that the British people should be “very proud” of what their money is achieving around the world.

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