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.
The UK is one of the few EU member states to currently hit that target, and the pledge – to appear in the party’s election manifesto – means it will be guaranteed until 2022, well after Britain leaves the bloc.
There had been mounting speculation that May may be about to drop the commitment, first promised by Tony Blair and then Gordon Brown, but only met under the previous, David Cameron-led coalition in 2013.
UKIP, and the hard-right of her own Conservative Party, have been increasingly critical of the aid budget, at a time of austerity, with the current Minister for International Development, Priti Patel, having previously mused on scrapping it.
Patel took office under May last summer with a promise in the Daily Mail – which often highlights waste in official development aid – to crack down on some projects.
Speaking at the start of the election campaign – after a snap poll was called for 8 June on Tuesday – May, speaking in her constituency, said the 0.7% commitment “will remain”.
But she added that money needed to be spend “in the most effective way”.
But asked about its future at a campaign event in Berkshire, Mrs May said: “Let’s be clear, the 0.7% commitment remains and will remain.
“What we need to do though is look at how that money is spent and make sure that we are able to spend that money in the most effective way.”
Former Chancellor George Osborne tweeted that the announcement was “very welcome”.
Recommitment to 0.7% aid target very welcome. Morally right,strengthens UK influence &was key to creating modern compassionate Conservatives
— George Osborne (@George_Osborne) April 21, 2017
This week Microsoft founder turned philanthropist Bill Gates had spoken out against any cut in foreign aid.
In 2015 the UK spent £12.1bn on overseas development assistance. This was projected to rise to £13.3bn in 2016.
The UK is one of only five member states to meet the 0.7% target, which was first laid down by the United Nations in the 1970s.
The others are Sweden (1.4%), Luxembourg (0.93%), Denmark (0.85%) and the Netherlands (0.76%). Germany is also now set to meet the objective.
However, there has been criticism in the past 12 months that countries are diverting parts of the supposedly overseas aid budgets into helping house and feed refugees that reach Europe.