George Woods | Opinion and Debate Editor
On 13th July 2021, the Conservative government successfully passed their motion of cutting foreign aid from being 0.7% of gross national income down to 0.5%. This is a £4 billion-pound reduction of support to the poorest nations during a precedent health crisis of a magnitude not seen in modern history. The motion, carried by 333 Ayes to 298 Noes, generated much controversy with 22 Conservative MPs, including the former Prime Minister Theresa May, voting against their own government. While Boris Johnsons and Rishi Sunak successfully managed to retreat from the nation’s moral responsibility to fund international aid, they have also turned their back on that which they are custodians of: our international standing.
Britain’s place in the world has been in decline since the death of the Empire. American growth alongside the rise of the East has provided little opportunity for the United Kingdom to exert real influence. And yet, international aid could do this. In Africa alone, a continent haunted by the exploits of our colonial past, our nation devoted 55% of our aid with £300 million being sent to Ethiopia and £258 million being sent to Nigeria alone. Our moral duty to help a continent we played a central role in destroying provides easy justification for providing international aid. In 2020 we entered, as a global community, a health crisis unparalleled which has left no nation untouched. As a country which enjoys high economic development and high living conditions, we have a natural imperative to support other nations through this pandemic. Instead, under our present government, we are turning our backs and reducing the support. Our moral status is subsequently declining as a result – and so too is our soft power.
International aid acts as a conduit for our influence. Pakistan, the country which receives the highest share of our aid at £305 million in 2019, is 3,857 miles away from the UK. And yet, with the aid we send, we can be viewed as a supportive partner whose voice is respected in Pakistan rather than regarded as an obscure, self-interested, nationalistic island nation. Our power is channelled through our aid – it is the life blood of our global influence. By cutting the aid in the name of cost cutting we are a central part of our soft power which enables us to still have a voice in a post-imperial world. By stopping our aid, Pakistan will seem further away than ever before.
The impacts of these cuts on the ground, like the impact on our soft power, will be catastrophic. The UNs children’s fund is set to lose 60% of its UK funding thanks to the cuts. The future generations of countries already traumatised by the events of the past year are set to lose. UNAIDS, a program designed to tackle AIDs in the poorest nations, will see an 80% reduction of its funding from the UK. Meanwhile the World Health Organisations Global Polio Eradication Initiatives UK funding will go from £110 million last year to just £5 million this. Rather than supporting and funding health initiatives, we are defunding any support programmes and thereby exacerbating the health crisis. The UK, simply put, is actively damaging global health through this reduction rather than playing its role as a global leader.
Boris Johnson in the 2019 General Election promised a new era of our nation as ‘Global Britain’. If this is the real-life consequences of Johnsonian Britain than we have no right to call ourselves global. Instead, we are becoming an inward-looking island which is cutting off its own influence in the name of nationalistic money saving. We were, and still could be, an international aid superpower with a voice which is respected across every continent. Instead, we have opted for isolation and decline.