Dominic Raab has clashed with MPs as he sought to defend a cut to the government’s foreign aid budget by £8billion.
Raab faced the International Development Committee on Thursday after last night’s confirmation that official development assistance (ODA) was being slashed from 0.7% to 0.5% of gross national income.
Committee chairwoman Sarah Champion accused the foreign secretary of “sneaking out” the announcement in a written ministerial statement (WMS) shortly before the end of the working day.
She then said an aid agency in Syria had faced financial problems because funds for this year had yet been allocated.
“People are going hungry because we are not signing off cheques,” Champion said.
Raab hit back: “I don’t accept your headline view that we are not still maintaining our proud legacy and tradition of being generous by global standards and no one is going hungry because we haven’t signed cheques.
“That is just not true.”
The foreign secretary also rejected accusations of “sneaking out” the cuts to foreign aid, claiming that thematic spending would not “normally” be set out at this point of the financial year.
Asked why he did not make the announcement in the Commons, Raab said: “First of all, we wouldn’t normally set out the thematic allocations, the spending, at this early stage in the financial year.
“In fact, I think it’s almost unprecedented. So, what I have tried to do is set out the raw data, broken down by allocation.”
He added: “The normal process, just to be clear, is for country allocations to be published by the Statistics for International Development, and that process doesn’t take place until 2022.”
Raab last night set out how £8.11 billion of the aid budget would be allocated by the Foreign Office, including £906 million for humanitarian preparedness and response.
Work involving that money will focus on countries most affected by risk of famine, including Yemen, Syria, Somalia and South Sudan.
The government expects less than £10 billion to be allocated to departments for aid spending in 2021/22.
In a joint statement, agencies including Save the Children, Oxfam, ONE, Christian Aid, Care International and The HALO Trust said: “The government has not even spared countries ravaged by humanitarian crisis, disease, war and poverty.
“When other nations are stepping forward and bolstering their aid budgets, the UK has instead chosen to step back.
“In a year when the UK has the chance to show leadership at G7 and COP26, withdrawing vital investment needed to keep everyone safe from health pandemics, conflicts and climate change, is the wrong move.”