What should be the role of “Global Britain” when it comes to international development in a world that has been severely disrupted by Brexit, COVID-19 and Russia’s brutal war of aggression against Ukraine?
The former Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, broke the UK’s commitment to spending 0.7 percent of national income and slashed spending in June 2020. Johnson trashed the Department for International Development (DFID), globally acknowledged as a leading force in development, and made it disappear into the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office. Now, while the UK’s latest Prime Minister has appointed a new Minister for Development (Andrew Mitchell) who believes in and understands the power and necessity of international development, supporters of restoring DFID’s budgets are confronted with the reality that the UK faces deep spending cuts across government departments as a consequence of the current economic crisis. The Labour Party has suggested that it will reinstate DFID if elected.
The challenges in development are immense. Forced displacement, as well as economic migration, plays an increasingly divisive role in the politics of developed democracies, and yet according to UNHCR, 86 percent of refugees are hosted in developing countries. Climate change creates particular risks for the poorest countries least able to invest in adaptation. The West sees ever-increasing competition for influence in Africa from China, which is not bound by the niceties of laws banning corrupt practices. Russia carries out its version of “development” using armed mercenaries in countries rich in rare minerals. Donald Trump’s “America First” policy saw the US retreat from the world stage, which was followed by President Biden’s ignominious withdrawal from Afghanistan. Famine again stalks the Horn of Africa.
So, what’s the point in the UK’s international development efforts? To help the poorest people? To promote the rights of women and girls? To boost UK export opportunities? To act as an instrument of foreign policy? To protect UK interests and to project power? To be a force to promote democracy, the rule of law, human rights and media freedom, indeed freedom itself? Why should this be a priority when there are so many pressing needs at home.
This interactive, online Sinews of Development series event will be staged by the Centre for Resilience and Sustainable Development (the CRSD) at the University of Cambridge.
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