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Cuts in UK aid giving Russia and China a foothold, says Bishop of St Albans

20 December 2022


CUTS in British aid to East Africa are allowing Russia and China to establish footholds in countries which previously looked to the West, the Bishop of St Albans, Dr Alan Smith, told the House of Lords on Thursday.

In a debate on the Government’s foreign-aid budget, which was cut by £4 billion last year, Dr Smith said: “If we are not persuaded that increasing our spending is the right and moral thing to do when whole communities are starving, we just need to look at some of the practical issues around what happens when we withdraw from helping others.

“In the Central African Republic, Russia and China have been steadily intensifying their efforts across the region. Right now, a Russian government-linked private military corporation, the Wagner Group, is conducting military operations in Mali to secure uranium, gold, and diamond contracts to fund the war in Ukraine. How much longer will it be before these and other countries move into East Africa as we withdraw?”

Feeding starving people was not just a practical and moral issue, he said. “If we are not engaging, we are opening up places to much more unscrupulous governments and regimes moving in and taking advantage. This is a vital part of our presence on the world scene. Across the world, many nations are jostling to establish themselves as global leaders. The danger is that we are simply withdrawing.”

Last year’s cut in aid spending from 0.7 per cent to 0.5 per cent of gross national income (News, 25 June 2021) was just “a drop in the ocean” compared with the Government’s borrowing to weather the current economic situation, he said.

“We all acknowledge that the current crisis is a global crisis, compounded by President Putin’s war in Ukraine and the recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic, yet in the face of such challenges, some of our neighbouring countries, such as France, Italy, and Germany, have increased their ODA commitments, while we reduce ours.”

In response, Lord Younger, the government Whip in the Lords, said that Britain was still one of the world’s largest donors of development assistance. “We magnify the impact of our budget in a number of ways” he said. “We attract funding from other donors and investors; we spend smartly on innovative expert-led projects with a wide reach; and we focus where we can have the most impact and positive effect on peoples’ lives.

“With the international development strategy — so important as a guiding hand — our spending decisions, our partnerships, and our expertise and professionalism will continue to reinforce our position as a development leader.”

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