'Strategic mistake': Former UK PMs Tony Blair and David Cameron warn against cutting foreign aid

Suban Abdulla
·3 min read
LONDON - NOVEMBER 12:  Britain's Prime Minister Tony Blair (L) and leader of the Conservative Party David Cameron arrive to attend the Remembrance Sunday Service at The Cenotaph on November 12, 2006 in London, England. The Festival of Remembrance is an annual event to honour those who have paid the ultimate sacrifice in the service of their country. The Festival comprises a service of Remembrance and an observance of the Two Minute Silence. It is also an opportunity to think about the Service men and women around the world who are putting their lives at risk protecting our peace and freedom today.  (Photo by Scott Barbour/Getty Images)
Tony Blair and David Cameron said the widely expected 0.2% cut in commitment to UN target would jeopardise UK’s “soft power” status. Photo: Scott Barbour/Getty Images

Britain’s former prime minister’s Tony Blair and David Cameron have urged current PM Boris Johnson to retain the government’s spending on foreign aid.

The former leaders warned that if the government cuts foreign aid from 0.7% to 0.5% in next week’s spending review, it will damage Britain’s influence on the global stage.

Cameron and Blair told the Telegraph the widely expected 0.2% cut in commitment to the UN target would jeopardise the UK’s “soft power” status.

Spending on foreign aid is linked to Britain’s gross national income, which has been hard hit by the coronavirus pandemic. In 2019 it was £2.17tn, meaning a drop from 0.7% to 0.5% would account for more than £4bn.

In a joint statement to the paper, the pair urged Johnson to maintain the UK’s pledge to spend 0.7% of gross domestic product (GDP) on aid and development following reports it could be cut to conserve cash during COVID-19.

Cameron told the Telegraph: “Abandoning the 0.7% target for aid would be a moral, strategic and political mistake. Moral, because we should be keeping our promises to the world’s poorest. A strategic error, because we would be signalling retreat from one of the UK’s vital acts of global leadership.

“And a political mistake because the UK is about to chair the G7 and important climate change negotiations. I hope the PM will stick to his clear manifesto promise, maintain UK leadership and save lives.”

Blair, who was PM from 1997 to 2007, introduced the 0.7% target at the Gleneagles summit in 2005, with the goal being reached under Cameron premiership in 2013.

While the commitment was enshrined into law by the coalition government in 2015, Johnson’s official spokesman pointed out that the legislation explicitly acknowledges the 0.7% might not always be met.

READ MORE: Rishi Sunak set to plough billions into the north to 'level up' economy

According to Blair, the spending tackled disease, boosted education and helped to increase living standards across large swathes of Africa.

“This has been a great British soft power achievement,” he said. “It isn’t about charity. It’s enlightened self-interest.

“Neither the challenge of climate or coronavirus can be met without Africa. Nor can those of extremism and uncontrolled immigration. To change it is a profound strategic mistake, and I sincerely hope the government will not do it.”

The former Conservative and Labour Party PM’s also warned Johnson would undermine his own presidency of the G7, which will take place in the UK next year, if he cuts foreign aid.

COVID-19 has led to a strain on the public purse with the government spending billions to boost the economy.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak is set to deliver his spending review on Wednesday, which lays out government spending over the next year after the pandemic blew a £200bn ($266bn) hole in the country’s finances.

Sunak is expected to inject billions of pounds into the north of England at next week’s spending review, the government has confirmed, addressing the longstanding imbalances between different regions in Britain.

Watch: How can Rishi Sunak plug the hole in public finances?