UK Government seeks to change aid rules to help Hurricane Irma victims

Theresa May admits ‘frustration’ with rules preventing UK from using foreign aid budget in British overseas territories

Lizzy Buchan
Political Correspondent
Thursday 14 September 2017 20:03 BST
Boris Johnson visited Anguilla on Wednesday to see first-hand the devastation wreaked by Hurricane Irma
Boris Johnson visited Anguilla on Wednesday to see first-hand the devastation wreaked by Hurricane Irma (EPA)

Ministers are attempting to overturn international rules preventing the UK from using its £13bn foreign aid budget to help British overseas territories lashed by Hurricane Irma.

Theresa May has made clear her frustration with Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) regulations, which block aid cash from being used in Anguilla, Turks and Caicos, and the British Virgin Islands as the islands are deemed to be too wealthy.

International Development Secretary Priti Patel has written to the OECD calling for urgent reform to the rules to reflect the vulnerability of the Caribbean island states in the event of natural disasters.

She said: “These rules were first established over 40 years ago. The world has changed dramatically since then, and we will work constructively with international partners to ensure the rules remain relevant and up to date.”

It comes as Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson compared the destruction left by the storm to “images from the First World War” after returning from a two-day visit to view the relief effort.

Mr Johnson, speaking during a press conference with US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, said: “Anybody who’s seen the effects of a hurricane knows it is absolutely catastrophic, awe-inspiring.

“I have never seen anything like it. It is like the destruction you see in images from the First World War.

“I think anybody with an ounce of compassion would like to see spending by our Government helping these people get back on their feet and getting these British overseas territories helped in the long term.

“Of course we are looking across Whitehall at ways in which we can make sure that our aid budget can be used in that way and I know that Priti Patel and all my colleagues are looking at how we can do that.

“That is absolutely natural and we are on that right now.”

The Government has committed £57m towards the recovery effort but it faced claims from an unnamed minister that five times that sum could have been sent if the official aid pot was available.

Downing Street insisted that the emergency relief effort has not been hampered in the wake of the deadly storm but acknowledged the Prime Minister was “frustrated with the rules as they stand”.

Ms May has pledged to look again at overseas aid after coming under pressure from some MPs to ditch the UK’s commitment to spending 0.7 per cent of the national income on aid.

Her spokesman said: “We began detailed work after the election to change the rules to prevent precisely these kind of scenarios.”

He hinted the UK could be prepared to act alone if it could not find an agreement on changing the international rules, where the OECD governs how Britain and other 34 nations spend their aid budgets according to need.

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