Nick Clegg warns of ‘lack of coherence’ in post-Brexit UK development action

Nick Clegg at ODI. [@ODIdev Twitter]

Britain’s commitment to development spending will give way to short-term geopolitics as “Brexit points the UK towards a friendless future,” the country’s former Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg has warned.

Delivering a keynote speech at the Overseas Development Institute (ODI) on 6 November, Nick Clegg said: “I think there will be capriciousness, volatility and a lack of coherence in the way Britain spends its development money.”

As a member of the UN, Britain has agreed to commit 0.7% of its GDP to international aid spending. However, Britain is just one of five EU member states that currently meet the target. The others are Sweden, Luxembourg, Denmark and the Netherlands.

European countries far from meeting development aid promises

European countries are far from meeting their official development assistance (ODA) targets. Factors related to migration are further adding to the financial pressure faced by development budgets, parts of which are being earmarked to take care of refugees.

UK Prime Minister Theresa May promised in her campaign for this June’s general election to maintain the foreign aid commitment after Britain leaves the EU. But Clegg is sceptical that the commitment will endure.

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British Prime Minister Theresa May promised Friday (21 April) to keep the UK’s aid spending at 0.7% of GDP if – as appears likely – her ruling Conservative party win the upcoming snap election.

He told the influential think-tank: “Money will [instead] be used to consolidate new trade relations” because being “unanchored from your own hemisphere is not smart in a globalised world.”

Clegg added: “There is a growing, emotionally resonate argument that charity starts at home,” claiming that foreign aid is “unpopular” among many Britons, and remains a mobilising force for ‘Leave’ campaigners.

Clegg, a former MEP, was the UK’s Liberal Democrat Deputy PM from 2010 to 2015. He lost his seat to a Labour candidate in the 2017 general election. He set up a think-tank, Open Reason, in 2015 to maintain an active role in campaigning against Brexit.

At the ODI event, he rejected the Brexiteer argument that leaving the EU will lead to increased opportunities for trade in global markets.

He said: “To think it can act as a surrogate or to replace trade [with the EU] is an illusion. Brexiteers have pretended that geography doesn’t matter, but, even with the push-button realities of globalisation… geography is the biggest single determinant of trade flows.”

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Most European businesses plan to cut back orders from British suppliers because of the slow progress of Brexit talks, a survey of company managers showed today (6 November).

Clegg believes that there are three “catalysts and forces of change in our world,” these being “collapse in Western [democratic] self-confidence; the rise of Chinese authoritarian power; and the North-South demographic imbalance.”

At a time of such “socio-economic migratory pressures,” Clegg believes “it is a criminal waste of energy and time to tie ourselves up in knots” and reject “an excellent example of supranational governance that is the EU.”

However, Clegg remains optimistic that Brexit can, in fact, be stopped. He said politicians must “urge colleagues to do their jobs… MPs must do their democratic duty and compare promises made by Brexiteers with the actual deal.” If the deal does not represent the needs of the voters then MPs should “withhold their consent [for Brexit].”

He said: “MPs will respond if they think opinion is changing in their own constituencies” but without pressure from the public they “don’t think they have permission to do what they think is right.”

It is also the role of the MP, according to Clegg, to unpack and differentiate between people’s fears and the reality. The “real or perceived migratory threat” which framed much of the Leave campaign, must be addressed by the government.

Clegg said: “Often people who say they are most motivated [to leave the EU] by immigration live in communities that are entirely unaffected by it.”


The “legitimate expectation in a mature democracy” is, according to Clegg, “that the government has some sovereignty and control over their own borders. People cannot accept that [the UK government] has no idea, and does not care, who comes in and out.”

He said: “Government has to be competent in how they administer borders and to know how many people are living [in Britain] in an illegal vacuum.” If the UK Government had this level of knowledge, MPs would be “much more confident in arguing how immigration enriches our country.”

Clegg remains optimistic that younger voters will change the outcome of Brexit, saying “you can’t keep a whole generation down in a mature democracy.”

The Brexit vote, Clegg believes, will become “a defining and galvanising moment for young people, and if they feel they are not being spoken for, they will do something about it.”

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