The UK’s development minister accused the European Commission on Tuesday (17 July) of discriminating against UK aid agencies, in a move that could scupper future partnerships after the UK leaves the EU.
Speaking at a hearing of the UK Parliament’s International Development committee, Penny Mordaunt said the Commission was deliberately ignoring an agreement allowing UK agencies to continue to access EU humanitarian aid funds while it negotiates a new post-Brexit deal.
“The draft Withdrawal agreement confirms the right of agencies to participate in all EU development programmes (during the transition). However, this is clearly not being adhered to,” she said.
“We have been shocked and disappointed by their behaviour, which does not set a good precedent for any future partnership,” added Mordaunt.
“We have clear evidence of discrimination, and that cannot continue, it is not in good faith.”
The UK’s International Development department and aid NGOs are among Europe’s most respected and best financed, and around 20% of total EU humanitarian aid spending is handled by UK-based agencies.
UK officials are keen to continue contributing to EU development instruments in the bloc’s next seven-year budget.
According to last week’s White Paper on post-Brexit relations, the UK is seeking a “cooperative accord” that would allow it to remain part of EU development and external spending instruments “on a case-by-case basis.”
However, in return for cash and expertise, the UK wants to have equal oversight to other EU countries on the programmes it will contribute to, a right currently not granted to other third countries.
The White Paper states that the UK “would require an appropriate level of influence and oversight over UK funds in line with the significant contribution and benefits that the UK brings. UK organisations should also be able to deliver EU programmes and apply for funding on an open and fair basis from programmes to which the UK contributes.”
Outside the EU, London is expected to push an ‘aid for trade’ agenda that could rival the EU’s planned overhaul of the Cotonou Agreement with African, Caribbean and Pacific countries, with countries in the Commonwealth a particular priority.
However, in the meantime, it is seeking to roll over the EU’s existing trade deals with developing countries into UK law until new accords can be negotiated.
Mordaunt told MPs that leaving the EU “creates a major opportunity for the UK to send a positive signal that our markets are open and that we are open for business to the developing world.”
She added that the UK would offer countries integrated trade and development programmes.
UK NGOs and aid agencies have long been anxious about the impact of Brexit on their work, and the prospect of being shut out from the EU, which is the world’s largest aid donor.
In the Joint Report by the European Commission and UK government agreed in December, London pledged to continue its contribution to the EU budget until 2020, guaranteeing its NGOs the right to apply for EU funding and participate in EU projects.
However, a leaked Commission document the same month warned that British applicants will “cease to be eligible to receive EU funding if the UK withdraws from the EU during grant period without concluding an agreement.”