Handing out £11bn in foreign aid is in Britains national interest

Andrew Mitchell defends foreign aid budget

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Andrew Mitchell has insisted “every penny” of Britain’s foreign aid budget is spent in the national interest. The development minister also expressed hope that the target would return to 0.7 percent of national income.

Spending has currently been cut to 0.5 percent of gross domestic product – around £11 billion a year.

Mr Mitchell told MPs on the International Development Committee today: “The 0.7 percent was the figure which the developed world settled on, it’s now 0.5 percent and very much hope it will go up to 0.7 percent.

“But every penny of this budget is spent in Britain’s national interest because tackling conflict and building prosperity not only help people in the poor world but they make us more prosperous and less subject to the effects of external conflict.

“Every penny of it is spent in Britain’s national interest and our job is to accept the figure we have and drive it to maximum effect and get best possible value for money for UK taxpayers.”

But Mr Mitchell admitted he was “rather surprised” to see Britain still spends foreign aid in China, conceding this could do “great damage” to the reputation of the budget.

Asked about the money going to the world’s second-largest economy, he told MPs: “I was rather surprised to see about the aid spending in China.

“By and large, bilateral programme spending in China has stopped, but the areas where it is continuing, and which does great damage to the reputation of the development budget, include Chevening scholarships, for example, and the British Council and most people would say that both of those two types of spending were a good thing to do.”

Mr Mitchell added that it was “virtually impossible” to defend spending taxpayers’ money in China and India.

During the appearance, the development minister also said the UK has lost its status as a “development superpower” which he added was “bemoaned around the world”.

He said: “When Tony Blair and Gordon Brown were in government, we spent 0.51 percent on international development and we were without question a development superpower.

“I would argue that in 2012 when David Cameron was our prime minister, we were also spending 0.51 percent and in my view, we were without question a development superpower.

“Today we are actually spending 0.55 percent and, you know, let’s not beat about the bush, we are not a development superpower at the moment and that is something that is bemoaned around the world.”

Mr Mitchell said structural changes are needed in the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO).

He said: “My view is that that requires some structural changes within the merger.

“I’m not in any way wanting to unpick what is settled government policy, but I think that there are structural changes which can be made and should be made and there is a discussion going on within and outside the Foreign Office about what they should be.”

The former international development secretary, who was recently brought back into Government by Rishi Sunak, was highly critical of the merger of the Department for International Development with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in 2020 and later led a parliamentary revolt against the reduction in the foreign aid budget.

It comes after Chancellor Jeremy Hunt announced in last month’s autumn statement that overseas aid budget will not be returned to its goal of 0.7 percent of national income “until the fiscal system allows”, despite Mr Mitchell’s best efforts to persuade him to reinstate the higher target.

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