Andrew Mitchell was International Development Secretary from 2010 to 2012, and is MP for Sutton Coldfield.
The Prime Minister deserves credit and all our thanks. He won a decisive election victory, unlocked the Brexit logjam and has steered our country through both the darkest days of the pandemic and the resulting economic slump. He inherited a difficult situation and was dealt an even more difficult hand. But this week, he has the opportunity to dominate the global stage and write his name into the history books, as host of a global summit which could kickstart a new era of multilateralism and international cooperation.
The success of Britain’s vaccine roll out, our strong economic rebound and the strength of our public finances, after a decade of responsible Conservative management, means that we can face the future with more confidence than most of the rest of the world. We entered this global crisis as the fifth richest nation on earth, and are emerging in the very same position.
We have experienced more than our fair share of misery and heartache over the past year. Every single one of the deaths Britain suffered during our national emergency was a personal tragedy and a devastating blow for bereaved families. But we were fortunate to have a Prime Minister and Chancellor who acted quickly and decisively to protect livelihoods, save businesses and limit preventable loss of life.
Others are less lucky. The World Bank estimates that 100 million more people have been pushed into poverty as a result of the pandemic. Poor countries could not provide furlough. They could not facilitate bounce back loans and they were not able to pre-order vaccines.
The poorest countries faced the pandemic already on their knees. Yemen was already on the brink of famine. Ethiopia is sliding once again into that abyss. South Sudan faces a year just as bleak as the last. But Britain is adding to their misery. We can’t balance the books on the back of the world’s poor. Yet we are slashing aid to those in the grips of humanitarian catastrophe. A quarter of a million women and children in Yemen that Britain fed last year will now be left to stave.
Not only did every Conservative MP elected at the last election stand on a party manifesto endorsing the 0.7 per cent commitment, but it remains the law of the land, which Parliament passed in 2015.
The argument that a nation such as Britain simply can’t afford this is entirely disingenuous. The cut to 0.5 per cent represents just one per cent of what the Treasury is borrowing this year. It is no coincidence that the motion Parliament will vote on next week is signed by every former Public Accounts Committee Chairman. As David Cameron has said: “this is a promise we don’t need to break.”
Britain’s funding for the UN’s reproductive health programme has been cut by 85 per cent. The UN says this aid would have helped prevent around 250,000 maternal and child deaths. We made a promise to women but when they return to have implants removed they will find the clinics closed and the trained medical staff gone.
The Prime Minister’s personal priority for aid is girls’ education but British funding has been cut by 25 per cent. While Unicef, the United Nations Children’s fund, has had a cut from Britain of 60 per cent. We made a promise to provide 12 year of education to every girl and now we are closing their schools and sacking their teachers.
Funding for clean water is being cut by 80 per cent in the middle of a pandemic. Ten million people stand to lose out on gaining access to clean water, sanitation and hygiene facilities this year, say WaterAid.
Britain is the only G7 country cutting aid. The French are set to reach 0.7 per cent, the Germans will exceed 0.7 per cent this year and the Americans are increasing aid by $14 billon. And developing countries that Britain needs to make commitments at the COP26 climate summit later this year are being alienated at the very moment we need a global agreement to tackle the global climate emergency. The policy makes no economic sense and no diplomatic sense.
Neither does it make political sense. Seventy five organisations across the country have come together to campaign for action in Covid, injustice, climate and nature. This Crack The Crises coalition represents tens of millions of ordinary people in the Women’s Institute, the RSPB, students unions and household name charities. As Margaret Thatcher and Cameron proved, the Conservative Party wins successive elections when we build coalitions of voters that endure. Our electoral coalition needs to be based on our enduring principles and on an agenda which unites Britain, not one that plays voters off against one another or seeks to divide communities.
For the good of our country, the good of our party and for Britain’s standing in the world, now is the time to keep our promise and retake our place as a global leader, with the Prime Minister as a historic host of a historic G7 summit.