Tobias Ellwood: Cutting Overseas Aid Budget Could Create 'Vacuums'

The announcement by the Chancellor has faced some criticism from MPs.

The Chair of the Defence Select Committee has criticised the Government's decision to cut the overseas aid budget for 2021, warning "downgrading" the UK's soft power programmes "will lead to vacuums in some of the poorest parts of the world".

Speaking after the Chancellor's announcement in the House of Commons, Tory MP Tobias Ellwood said it is "likely" China and Russia will "extend their authoritarian influence" by taking the place of the UK.

Mr Ellwood said: "We cannot genuinely claim to be global Britain nor serious about creating post-conflict strategies for countries like Libya and Yemen that could lead to great UK prosperity when our hard power is not matched by our soft power."

Mr Ellwood's comments were echoed by former head of the Army, Lord Dannatt.

Speaking in the House of Lords, the Crossbench Life peer criticised the move, arguing it "will significantly reduce our soft power and thereby reduce the impact of the so-called global Britain".

Chancellor Rishi Sunak told MPs on Wednesday that the foreign aid budget will be cut to 0.5% of gross national income in the coming year.

Mr Sunak added the Government’s "intention" is to return to 0.7% when the fiscal situation allows.

Foreign Office minister Baroness Sugg has resigned in protest against the decision to cut the overseas aid budget, branding the move "fundamentally wrong".

Shadow chancellor Anneliese Dodds criticised the announcement, telling MPs the Chancellor has "turned his back on the world's poorest by cutting international aid".

She added: "It’s in Britain’s national interest to lay the foundations for economic growth across the world. No wonder many British businesses have condemned his move."

General Lord Dannatt said he is "very disappointed" over the reports.
Lord Dannatt was among those to criticise the move.

Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon voiced her criticism, describing the cut in a tweet as "a political gesture to the right wing of the Tory party", adding: "Deplorable indeed."

Former foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt MP also expressed his disappointment, saying the UK will be "poorer in the eyes of the world" due to aid cuts.

He told the Commons: "To cut our aid budget by a third in a year when millions more will fall into extreme poverty will make not just them poorer but us poorer in the eyes of the world because people will worry that we are abandoning a noble ideal that we, in this country, have done more to champion than anyone else."

Mr Sunak replied: "There are many ways in which we exert our influence and our values across the world, aid is just but one part."

However, some MPs defended the move. 

Tory MP Sir Robert Syms said his constituents in Poole would "understand" aid cuts.

Conservative MP Philip Davies also supported Mr Sunak’s announcement, saying in the "real world" people support the measure.

Mr Sunak also announced some British military personnel will be affected by a pay freeze in the next financial year.

Cover image: A library picture of Tobias Ellwood speaking in the House of Commons.