The UK Minister responsible for the Overseas territories, Baroness Liz Sugg has quit over disagreement with her government’s decision to slash the UK international aid budget.
Baroness Sugg’s resignation on Wednesday came shortly after the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Rishi Sunak, announced in his autumn Spending Review that the aid budget was being slashed from 0.7% of UK GDP to 0.5%.
In her resignation letter which came within the hour after the Chancellor’s announcement, the Overseas Territories Minister decried the decision saying: “It is fundamentally wrong to abandon our commitment.”
Once the news broke, Baroness Sugg posted a tweet in which she said: “Sadly I have resigned from Government today” and included a copy of her letter to Prime Minister Boris Johnson.
Baroness Sugg’s resignation comes a day after she addressed the ongoing UK/Overseas Territories Joint Ministerial Council (JMC) meeting in which she renewed a pledge of support to the OTs.
The UK has been one of the few G7 countries to adhere to an international commitment to set aside an agreed 0.7% of their GDP for international aid.
It has also been a manifesto pledge of the Boris Johnson administration.
But announcing his spending and budget review on Wednesday, Chancellor Sunak told the House of Commons (the British Parliament) that the cut was necessary as a result of the economic crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
He said, "Sticking rigidly to spending 0.7% of our national income on overseas aid is difficult to justify to the British people.”
But Baroness Sugg fundamentally disagreed with that position and summarily quit.
Just the day before while addressing a meeting (held remotely this year due to COVID) of the UK and Overseas Territories annual Joint Ministerial Council she had pledged that “the UK Government takes its responsibilities towards the Overseas Territories extremely seriously.
Whether that means defending you from threats, providing aid for essential services, helping you preserve your natural environment, or supporting you in times of crisis - as we have with COVID-19.”
”Right now, we face huge global challenges, but we face them together,” she had stated then.
But with the government deciding to cut the aid budget, Baroness Sugg expressed a fundamental divergence over this move, coming as it did the day after she renewed her own commitment to the OTs.
“I believe it is fundamentally wrong to abandon our commitment to spend 0.7% of gross national income on development,” she wrote in her resignation letter to Prime Minister Boris Johnson.
“This prime should be kept in the tough times as well as the good,” she insisted.
“I do not believe we should reduce our support further at a time of unprecedented global crisis.”
Upon receiving her letter of resignation, Prime Minister Johnson wrote back and said he was “very sorry to receive it” and credited her for “outstanding service” and for “being at the forefront of the UK’s leading role in international development”… “and I know that the FCDO (Foreign Commonwealth and Development Office) will miss you.”
In 2019 the UK spent the third-highest among on overseas aid with the US and Germany ahead of it.
But measures against GDP the UK is ahead of both of those countries and fifth globally behind Luxembourg, Norway, Sweden and Denmark.
The decision to cut the UK aid budget has also been criticised by former UK prime ministers, Theresa May, David Cameron, Gordon Brown, Tony Blair and John Major.
Conservative former cabinet minister Jeremy Hunt claimed the foreign aid cut would make the UK "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.”
The Baroness has been a longtime supporter of maintaining the foreign aid target of 0.7% of GDP.
In a statement to the UK/OTSc JMC this week Prime Minister Boris Johnson spoke of the UK’s “unwavering commitment to supporting the Overseas Territories as they deal with the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.”
Addressing the JMC, he urged them “(not to forget) that the UK is absolutely committed to you, to your futures and to our partnership.”
“As we go forward and recover from this pandemic, we want to make sure that we build back greener and that we look after island economies that are so vulnerable to climate change,” Mr Johnson had stated.
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