Rishi Sunak on Wednesday announced the Government plans to cut the UK’s foreign aid budget from 0.7 percent to 0.5 percent of gross national income (GNI). The move has sparked a row over whether doing so will be detrimental to Britain’s standing on the world stage, with Tory MPs and former Prime Ministers coming out to criticise the cut. It comes as the nation reels from the devastating economic impact caused by the coronavirus crisis.
Virtual BBC Question Time audience members were asked for their thoughts on the row on Thursday night.
Guest Claire said: “To use an aeroplane analogy it is really important that we put our own oxygen mask on first.
“We need to put it into perspective.
“It is a cut and it will be reinstated.
“But it is a question of when will that happen.”
Fellow audience member Stuart from Wales agreed.
He said: “We are now contributing about £20billion in aid per year.
“We will still be in the top three or four contributors throughout the world.
“In view of what we have said earlier about public sector pay freezes, I think we should consider that this is a sensible move to make.
“It can be reverted when circumstances improve and I do believe that a large percentage of the population does believe that we contribute more than our fair share anyway.”
Another guest, Michael, said he could understand why the cut had been made – but called for the measure to be short-term.
He said: “What I would like to see, as this is supposedly a short-term reduction, is a fixed date as to when this is to rise back again.”
The audience members’ comments come amid a Tory rising backlash against the plan, with a number of prominent Conservatives having publicly expressed concern about the move, announced in Wednesday’s Spending Review, which reneges on a manifesto commitment.
Foreign Office Minister Baroness Sugg quit in protest against the plan, while former International Development Secretary Andrew Mitchell said the change will cause “100,000 preventable deaths, mainly among children”.
Meanwhile, former Prime Minister David Cameron, who brought in the 0.7 percent target, described the move as “very sad”.
Mr Cameron said on Wednesday: “I think it is a very sad moment. We are breaking a promise to the poorest people and the poorest countries in the world that we made and a promise that we do not have to break.”
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It is believed that a one-off cut to the aid target would make a saving of about £4billion.
However, fears have arisen that the temporary reduction could be made permanent.
The commitment to spend 0.7 percent of GNI on foreign aid was enshrined into law in 2015.
Foreign aid spending is linked to the GNI, which has badly hit by the pandemic.
It is understood Mr Sunak’s reforms will require new legislation to be passed by Parliament.