The UK foreign secretary, Dominic Raab, has told MPs that “no country is immune” from the impending aid cuts, but failed to clarify when specific plans would be made public.
Speaking after the release of the first details of the £4bn cuts to international aid, which have been widely criticised as “draconian” and opaque, the minister confirmed “no stand-alone” impact assessment had been carried out in individual countries but that “we identify risks we see across the board”.
“We are still doing the country-by-country plans,” said Raab, during a two-hour session at the Commons international development committee, which scrutinises the aid budget. “I don’t think it’s realistic to think that any country will be entirely immune from the savings we’ve had to make.”
The minister said there was “no legal requirement” for the government to hold a debate or vote in the Commons on the aid cuts, which will reduce the amount the UK spends from 0.7% of gross national income – a figure that is enshrined in law – to 0.5%. The aid budget was £15bn in 2019, with a reduction to 0.5% this year dependent on overall growth.
Raab added: “There’s nothing to stop backbenchers – parliament controls its own business – from organising a vote on anything they wish.”
Critics say the government cannot ignore a legally binding target and a legal challenge is being considered.
On Tuesday, the development director for Yemen at the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) admitted no assessment had been carried out in the country on the impact of the 60% cut in aid.
Raab said: “In terms of a standalone impact assessment, country by country, done in a formalised way, that’s not the way we’ve operated to date, mainly because there are too many scenarios. And they overlap. So I’m not sure this would be particularly effective.”
Sarah Champion, the Labour MP for Rotherham and chair of the international development committee, said she was concerned at being told by aid organisations that “people are going hungry” in Syria because money was not being signed off.
Raab said he did not accept her “headline view”, adding: “Nobody is going hungry because we haven’t signed off cheques. That’s just not true”.
Champion said she had heard “first-hand from country directors and some of the big NGOs and I don’t think they have any basis for making that up”. She said directors of international aid organisations were afraid to discuss it publicly.
“They are very scared at the moment because they believe if they put that information in the public domain, then the situation with the FCDO might get worse and I think that is an awful situation.”
Raab said she could provide the information anonymously. He said he valued his relationships with non-governmental organisations (NGOs), which had been put under pressure because of the cuts. However, he said “legally and morally” the FCDO’s overarching duty was poverty reduction.
Pauline Latham, the Conservative MP for Mid Derbyshire and a committee member, told Raab she was being “texted by NGOs as we speak”.
“They have said it’s like planning for the future by chucking darts at a board while blindfolded. I’m afraid they don’t seem to have the faith in the planning as you do.”
Raab said he understood the “pressure and uncertainty” the situation had created for NGOs, but his duty was to “maximise the impact on the ground”. He also dismissed comments that the FCDO has not been engaging with aid organisations on the aid cuts.