Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab has been accused of “sneaking out draconian cuts” to the foreign aid budget.
Conservative former international development secretary Andrew Mitchell criticised the Cabinet minister for having “slipped out” details of reduced spending in a statement late on Wednesday.
Mr Raab set out how £8.11 billion of the aid budget will be allocated by the Foreign Office – approximately 80% of the total UK spend – 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.
Economic damage caused by the Covid-19 pandemic has led the Government to shelve its manifesto commitment to spend 0.7% of national income on overseas aid, cutting that to 0.5%.
The Government expects just under £10 billion to be allocated to departments for aid spending in 2021/22.
After Mr Raab’s statement, Tory backbencher Mr Mitchell said: “These words hide the most draconian cuts ever made by Britain and they affect many countries where Britain has a deep and abiding relationship.
“There is little detail but we know that the cuts are close to 50%. This is a statement that should have been made to MPs in the House of Commons, rather than slipped out at the end of the day in a written communication.”
The chair of the Commons International Development Committee, Sarah Champion, said the timing of the statement shows “a lack of respect” for Parliament.
“To sneak out a written statement at the end of the day shows a lack of respect for both Parliament scrutinising these cuts and the aid organisations that are hearing about the spend for the first time only now,” the Labour MP said.
“To say the statement is scant on detail is an understatement. Whilst we now have limited understanding on the areas the Government is prioritising for its shrinking aid pot, we are still awaiting guidance on country-by-country allocations.
“People’s lives are directly impacted by these decisions and it is shocking that they still don’t have clarity they need.”
The statement revealed that aid to China will be slashed by 95% to less than £1 million.
Announcing the official development assistance departmental allocations (ODA) for 2021-22, Mr Raab confirmed that China’s ODA had been cut to £900,000, with some additional money this year to meet former contractual agreements.
In a written statement to Parliament, the Foreign Secretary said: “The resulting portfolio marks a strategic shift, putting our aid budget to work alongside our diplomatic network, our science and technology expertise and our economic partnerships in tackling global challenges.”
Mr Raab added: “We will focus on core HMG priorities for poverty reduction, including getting more girls into school, providing urgent humanitarian support to those who need it most, and tackling global threats like climate change, Covid recovery and other international health priorities.”
Earlier this week, the Government were urged to allow a Commons vote on the foreign aid budget cut, with Labour saying the plans “remove a lifeline from hundreds of thousands of people”.
Save the Children chief executive Kevin Watkins said: “UK aid for humanitarian responses has been cut by almost half since before the pandemic and girls’ education, despite being a stated priority of the Prime Minister, has been cut by a quarter.
“The UK’s hard-won reputation for international leadership in aid is in tatters.”
Oxfam said it was “extremely concerned” about the announcement.
Sam Nadel, Oxfam’s head of policy and advocacy, said: “For millions of people around the world, today’s announcement will mean no clean water, no food when they are hungry and no medicines when they are sick.
“Ministers should urgently think again – keeping our promises to the world’s poorest matters more than ever in the midst of a global pandemic.”
Anti-poverty organisation One said the announcement makes “clear the Government’s words are not matched by actions”.
UK director Romilly Greenhill said: “The cuts reveal a Government which makes bold declarations about the importance of investing in girls’ education and preventing future health crises, but takes a scythe to the very projects needed to deliver on these ambitions – all in the midst of a pandemic and the same year we’re due to host major summits on these issues.
“The promised new era of British leadership is going to be very hard to deliver whilst we’re turning our back on the world’s most difficult challenges.”