Britain has to rebuild its reputation as a global leader in providing assistance to developing countries after the damage caused by the decision to slash the aid budget as part of post-pandemic spending cuts, the development minister, Andrew Mitchell, has admitted.
Speaking at the annual meeting of the World Bank in Marrakech, Mitchell – who led a backbench revolt against the decision to abandon the government’s commitment to spending 0.7% of national output on aid – said it was vital that the UK “played its part”.
The development minister said the UK would contribute generously to the World Bank fund that provides grants and zero-interest loans to poorer countries, would contribute to a capital increase for the Bank, and was urging that faster progress be made in giving distressed countries debt relief.
“My job is to make sure we rebuild Britain’s reputation position on international development and that we play the part we have always played in driving forward the agenda,” he said.
Mitchell was secretary of state at the Department for International Development (DfID) under David Cameron, but has returned to the government in a more junior role after the decision to subsume DfID into the Foreign Office. The aid cut, the siphoning off of the aid budget to pay for the housing of migrants and refugees, and the scrapping of DfID as an independent department, have all contributed to Britain losing its reputation as the world leader on development.
Mitchell said that when he returned as a minister a year ago he had been told by the prime minister, Rishi Sunak, to “build back better and do what I could to help. I would argue that’s exactly what I’ve done. Whatever happened in the past, Britain is on the right track in terms of development.”
As part of the aid cuts, Britain reduced its contribution to the International Development Association (IDA) – the World Bank’s grants and soft loan fund – by 50%. Ajay Banga, the Bank’s new president, used a keynote speech in Marrakech to urge rich countries to “reload” the fund, warning that it was a long way short of its goal and that time was short.
Mitchell refused to be drawn on how big a contribution Britain would make to the new IDA round, but said: “I am completely across the arguments for a big replenishment and we expect to do our part.”
Separately, the World Bank has been asking its major shareholders, such as the UK, to support an increase in its capital so that it can lend more to emerging and developing countries. Mitchell said Britain now backed the idea after the World Bank demonstrated a willingness to “sweat” its existing balance sheet.
Mitchell said an all-party white paper due next month would set out plans to achieve the twin objectives of meeting the UN’s anti-poverty 2030 sustainable development goals and achieving a “quantum leap” in climate finance.