Malala Yousafzai joins chorus urging UK government not to cut overseas aid

Adam Forrest
·3-min read
<p>Malala Yousafzai</p>

Malala Yousafzai

Nobel Prize laureate Malala Yousafzai has called on Boris Johnson’s government to uphold its promises and protect the overseas aid budget in the spending review.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak is expected to announce that he is suspending the UK’s legal commitment to spend 0.7 per cent of national income on overseas aid, with a cut to 0.5 per cent thought likely.

Ms Yousafzai joined a chorus of voices – including five former UK prime ministers – urging the government to think again. “Covid-19 could force 20 million more girls out of school. To keep girls learning, we need leaders to prioritise education,” the education campaigner tweeted.

The Pakistani activist, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2014, added: “Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak: the UK pledged 0.7 per cent in aid last year. When you announce spending priorities tomorrow, I hope you’ll deliver on that promise.”

Former prime ministers Sir John Major, Tony Blair, Gordon Brown and Theresa May – as well as former Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson – have all publicly criticised the expected aid cut.

Sir John told The Times: “Cutting our overseas aid is morally wrong and politically unwise. It breaks our word and damages our soft power. Above all, it will hurt many of the poorest people in the world. I cannot and do not support it.”

The Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby said cutting the aid budget was “ethically the wrong thing to do”, while Nobel laureate Kailash Satyarthi wrote in a letter to Mr Johnson calling the proposal “immoral and dangerous”.

A senior US official with ties to the incoming Joe Biden administration – former Barack Obama adviser John Podesta – told the BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that reducing the UK’s aid commitment would be “extremely unfortunate”.

Mr Podesta also said it would be “odd”, given the huge public health challenges facing less developed countries.

The 0.7 per cent target is written into law, and Mr Johnson’s 2019 election manifesto promised to keep it. The government is reportedly planning to pass legislation to allow a “temporary” cut in the aid budget.

However, some MPs suspect it could lead to a permanent change in the target.

Damian Green, chair of the One Nation group of Tory backbenchers, told The Telegraph: “If the government tries to pass a law effectively repealing the current obligations on aid they will have severe problems getting it through the House of Commons … I know dozens of my colleagues will be wary of supporting that.”

The prime minister’s official spokesman said Mr Johnson had stressed that “the people of this country should be proud of the support we give around the world”, but added: “It is important to look at where savings can be made and to ensure that aid spending is used effectively.”

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