I beg to move,
That this House has considered the UK’s future relationship with the EU on international development.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hanson. I thank the Minister for being here to respond to the debate, and hon. Members from across the House who have joined me for this important discussion.
This is the first Westminster Hall debate that I have secured, and I am proud to have done so on such a key issue. The UK’s future international development work will play a pivotal role in the lives of millions of the world’s poorest people. We cannot allow Brexit to undo the good work that we have achieved through overseas aid.
Before my election to the House, I ran a hospital and a community health programme in Uganda, on the edge of the Bwindi impenetrable forest, for almost five years. It offered HIV, malaria, and maternal and child health services to local communities. I have seen at first hand the difference that development programmes can make. We should be incredibly proud of the work that the UK and the EU do to save lives and end poverty around the world. We should also be proud of our continued commitment to spend 0.7% of national income on overseas aid.
I called for this debate because we are at a crucial crossroads in the discussions about Brexit. In the next six months, the second phase of talks must agree what our future relationship with the EU will look like. Just as crucially, at the same time, the EU’s multi-annual financial framework—its budget—for 2021 to 2027 is under discussion.
Many questions remain unanswered. So much is still unknown and so little time remains. It is therefore right that this House should have a serious say in what the UK is trying to achieve, as well as on our negotiating position to get there. We have had very few opportunities so far to do that, so I welcome today’s debate.
I will talk about four key points: first, the impact of this vital work, and the many lives we already save and improve; secondly, the importance of working together with the EU to achieve greater efficiency and to add value to what we do; thirdly, the recognition that the UK is a world leader on development—we punch well above our weight and it is important to continue to provide that leadership; fourthly, the acknowledgement that other options and partnerships simply will not match up to what we can already offer. There is much at stake. Our future relationship with the EU on international development matters.
First, and perhaps most critically, the impact of this work is such that the lives of the world’s poorest and most marginalised populations depend on our getting it right. We must get the greatest impact and value for money out of every pound of the UK’s aid budget. If we do not, we will deliver fewer life-saving vaccinations, put fewer girls in schools and save fewer refugees from sexual violence.
In 2016, £1.5 billion—11% of our total official development assistance budget—was delivered through the EU budget and the European development fund. After decades of working with the EU, we know that it is one of the most effective delivery channels for spending taxpayers’ money to help the world’s poorest. Hon. Members do not need to take my word for that: in the Government’s multilateral aid review, the European Commission’s development and humanitarian programmes were assessed as “very good” in terms of matching UK development objectives, and “good” in terms of their organisational strengths. When the Ebola crisis happened, with leadership from the Department for International Development, member states worked together. By pooling resources, they could provide a much more effective response on the ground.
Secondly, partnership working with the EU allows DFID to improve where and how it works, and to help more of the world’s poorest. It has been said that every £1 of aid the UK spends through EU institutions is matched by £6 from other member states. The EU has operations in 120 of the world’s countries. Our partnership enables our aid budget to reach and respond in a far higher number of countries than we could ever achieve by working alone—often in places that other partnerships simply do not reach.
Anybody who, like me, has worked in international development or humanitarian response will say how important co-ordination on the ground is in responding to an emerging situation. The EU is a crucial in-country co-ordination mechanism for European donors to quickly share information and make decisions, so we must find a way to keep a seat at that table. By pooling resources and expertise with the EU and with European donors, DFID can tackle, at scale, much bigger crises than it could by itself.
Thirdly, our financial commitments to EU development and humanitarian programmes grant the UK enormous access and influence over international development globally. In 2016, EU nations spent more than €75 billion on official development assistance, but that figure could and should be higher. The UK and others led the way by spending 0.7% of gross national income on development assistance, but many countries do not. We must persuade those who are still falling short to raise their game, but we can do so only if they listen to us.
I am loth to interrupt my hon. Friend’s passionate speech, but he mentioned 2016 and I wondered if he had seen the International Development Committee’s report of that year. It points out that the Government should
“consider the ramifications of the UK’s exit on the laws and regulations designed to curb corruption both here and overseas”.
Anti-corruption was not one of his four pillars, but the report said that it should not be de-prioritised. Yet when the Government’s anti-corruption strategy came out in December, there was no mention of this. Is he as disturbed as I am by that gaping hole?
I did not choose to talk about corruption, but my hon. Friend raises an important point. To ensure that our aid is spent effectively, and, perhaps more importantly, to maintain public confidence in the fact that we give 0.7% of national income to official development assistance, we have to work in any way we can, and with many partnerships, to root out corruption.
DFID is widely perceived as one of the top aid agencies, which raises the standard of aid effectiveness and transparency in Europe and around the world. It has a seat in Cabinet and it is supported by deep technical expertise. Many European partners do not have that, which means that it is often able to set the standard, raise the bar, and promote important principles, such as poverty reduction and the untying of aid.
Despite the key role we play in the EU’s international development, we would be naive to think that we could achieve just as much by going it alone. To withdraw from EU development and humanitarian programmes would be a mistake. Large proportions of the money we invest on the ground to help the world’s poorest would be likely to be swallowed up by the creation of costly administrative systems to distribute those funds outside existing structures.
I am the Prime Minister’s trade envoy to Nigeria. The aims of our aid programmes and of the EU’s in that country are quite well aligned. How does the hon. Gentleman see that continuing? What happens when, as in central and eastern Europe, those aims diverge? The EU’s efforts in that area fell behind.
I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on securing his first Westminster Hall debate on this very important subject. Does he agree that the scale and size of the UK’s contribution to international aid helps to mitigate some of his concerns? The big part that the UK plays in international aid will give us an important role on the world stage.
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for raising that issue. Together with our EU partners, we are the world’s largest donor, but if we are alone we will fall down the pecking order. At least some of our influence comes from working with EU partners, but I concede that our role and our leadership as a stand-alone player are still very important.
My hon. Friend is making very good progress. Does he agree that it is not just money that is important to our influence in the EU? In the final stages of the sustainable development goal negotiations, there were four actors around the table: the EU, the US, the G77 and the co-chairs. Is there not a risk that if we do not come to an agreement with the EU, we will lose a seat in some of the informal negotiations that shape development policy?
I thank my hon. Friend for that wise intervention. Yes, there is a risk that we will lose much of our influence if we do not get this right.
My final point is that we need to think seriously about what kind of country we want to become. The Select Committee on Foreign Affairs recently warned that the rhetoric of “global Britain” risks becoming nothing more than a slogan. Just a fortnight ago, DFID signed a controversial new humanitarian partnership with Saudi Arabia, despite what it is doing to put 8.4 million people in Yemen at risk of famine. When we form the wrong alliances, it could spell disaster for development. Some may say that we could form aid partnerships with nations such as the United States, but that would put our existing work at risk, especially in the light of the President’s Executive order that brings back the so-called global gag rule. We could find our ongoing progress on sexual health and reproductive rights held back by others’ beliefs.
Our partnership with the EU must surely be one of our top priorities. Given what is at stake and the risks of getting it wrong, we cannot afford to treat our humanitarian partnership as a bargaining chip in Brexit negotiations. The impact of our contributions on millions of lives and the amplification that they give to DFID are far too important to sacrifice in Brexit negotiations. I hope that today we will have a chance to put party politics aside and restate what I believe is a widespread commitment to moving forward with an ambitious and substantive partnership with the EU on international development.
To move forward, we need to fully understand the Government’s position, so I hope the Minister will paint a clearer picture of it today. In September, the Government published an ambiguous Brexit position paper, “Foreign policy, defence and development”, that made a commitment to an ambitious international development partnership with the EU. Six months on, however, the details are still lacking. Just weeks ago, DFID published a new paper that suggested that the UK will seek flexible engagement with different funds. It says that we will continue to seek influence and a seat at the table wherever we can—hardly a clear or compelling vision. Surely the public, our EU partners, non-governmental organisations and developing nations deserve more clarity than that.
I ask the Minister to provide some clarity by answering the following questions. What EU funds do the Government want to contribute to? Will the Government continue making contributions to the central EU budget, or only to ring-fenced funds outside it? Will they actively push for the European development fund to remain independent, ring-fenced and outside the scope of the central EU budget? I understand that that is far from certain. What influence would we need to secure from the EU in order to consider the negotiations to have been successful? What exact plans is DFID making for a no-deal scenario?
Tamsyn Barton, the chief executive of the UK international development network, Bond—British Overseas NGOs for Development—has already warned that DFID runs the risk that the EU will see it as cherry-picking. The Government’s new paper also urges so-called creative thinking. I hope that our negotiations in this important area of humanitarianism will not suffer from the same negotiating weaknesses that we have seen elsewhere.
I hope that this debate will be just the beginning of a meaningful discussion on the future of the UK-EU international development partnership. Questions remain about how Parliament will have a say on this crucial topic in the future and about how we will exercise real scrutiny over the Government’s position. The UK has collaborated with the EU for decades, with shared goals and values, to eliminate hunger, poverty, disease and inequality and to tackle conflict and crisis at scale. That partnership is too important to risk. We must now get on with the business of making sure that we preserve it once we leave the European Union.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship again this week, Mr Hanson. I congratulate the hon. Member for Stockton South (Dr Williams) on securing this important debate on an important subject.
International development has been one of the UK Government’s great success stories, as the hon. Gentleman recognises. We have met our commitment to spending 0.7% of gross national income on overseas aid; we are one of just seven countries in the world to do so. Working bilaterally and multilaterally, we have made progress towards reaching the 2030 global goals. That success is to be applauded, and I have every confidence that it will continue after Brexit, when the £1.5 billion— 11% of our overseas aid spending—that we currently funnel through the EU’s development programmes comes under our control.
Of course, if we are to maintain our 0.7% target, we must continue to spend that money on overseas aid, but we do not have to spend it all in the same way. Arguably, the EU still sends too much of its aid to middle-income countries that benefit either from being candidates for accession or simply from being near the EU. In 2016, for instance, the top five beneficiaries of overseas aid from EU institutions were Turkey, Morocco, Ukraine, Serbia and Tunisia, all of which are very much middle-income countries.
One of this Conservative Government’s great achievements in aid is the rigour that we have brought to the Department for International Development, which ensures that UK aid is spent as wisely and effectively as possible. I look forward to the aid that we funnel through the EU being subjected to the same focus. It is important to note that a lot of EU overseas aid work is excellent and helps some of the world’s poorest people, but it also benefits middle-income countries, as I said.
Britain, the EU, other developed economies and organisations such as the UN are all in the same fight to eradicate poverty and hunger and build a better world. As the hon. Gentleman said, there are cases in which multilateral aid—whether given through the UN, through another global organisation or through the EU—maximises the impact of our aid money and helps it to reach places and people that we could not reach alone. We should therefore be willing to continue working and co-operating with the EU on certain international development projects that we deem appropriate. I hope that the UK Government will express that wish to EU leaders as we negotiate Brexit and as the EU formulates its post-2020 overseas aid policy. If the EU puts our common goal of a poverty-free world first, it should accept our willingness to join in with some projects.
I am optimistic about the future of our international development policy. As the hon. Gentleman recognises, Britain can hold its head high: we have a proud record of giving significantly more money than most EU states. I hope we will get the control we need to ensure that our money is spent in the best way possible, while leaving the door open to co-operation with the EU where it is best not just for us and the EU, but for the world as a whole.
Thank you, Mr Hanson, for calling me to speak. I also thank my hon. Friend the Member for Stockton South (Dr Williams) for securing this debate, which is very important. Hopefully it will spur on the International Development Committee, which I sit on, to expedite its planned inquiry into this issue.
I will briefly touch on a number of issues, which supplement those that have already been raised, and which are particularly about the co-ordination of non-governmental organisations. At the moment, Britain and London are one of the leading hubs for NGOs and aid organisations around the world. Those organisations receive a number of substantial grants, from not only the British Government but the European Union, and they receive them because they have their headquarters or administrative offices in the European Union.
One thing we must ensure in any leaving of the EU is that we do not disadvantage NGOs that have decided to base themselves in Britain—very often because the British people have been so generous historically in supporting international development. We not only have Oxfam in Oxford, of course, but this city—London—is a leader for international development. Having a commitment that the Government will not only continue to support these NGOs from Government funds but go and bat for the NGO sector so that these NGOs are eligible for EU funds, even if their registered address is in London, will be vital to ensure that they continue their co-ordinated work. I hope that the Government will make a commitment on that.
On visits with many hon. Friends, I have seen how co-ordination on the ground is so important. Often, one of the big players—in other words, the EU or the United States Agency for International Development—takes a co-ordinating role between Government donors in countries, and Britain has often stepped up to co-ordinate EU efforts. Sierra Leone is one good example of that. Making sure that Britain is able to take the lead in co-ordinating Government efforts in-country, whether we are part of the EU or we have a memorandum of understanding with it, will be really important in ensuring that we continue batting like that.
The other thing I want to raise is the 2019 report to the high-level political forum. I welcome the fact that the Government themselves will report to that forum, which evaluates the sustainable development goals, but the EU will also report to it in the same year. How the Government feed into that report—feeding in the good work that Britain does—will be important, because it is international frameworks that help to leverage our money so that we have a bigger bang for our buck. However, if the EU report does not include British priorities, there is a danger that our voice will be diminished on the international stage. It would be really good to hear from the Minister on some of those issues.
I will finish by saying that very often, in my experience of international development diplomacy, and as I mentioned previously, it has been the EU that has led and co-ordinated, and it has been Britain within the EU that has helped to push the EU to be a leader in certain areas. I wonder whether the Government have had any significant discussions about how they will continue to play a leading role in “EU-plus”—I say “plus” because we will not be in the EU—co-ordination in New York when we are involved in these important negotiations. I ask that because there is a real danger, when we leave the EU, that if we do not have an arrangement with the EU to negotiate jointly with it, we will just not be “in the room”.
I leave Members with one anecdote. I was in the negotiations that set up the HLPF, and I remember that we went off into a small room. It was, as I mentioned earlier, the US, the EU and a few other big players. At the end of the negotiations, we had worked out a deal, but Switzerland came and said, “We’re not happy with that deal. We don’t like it.” The chairman turned around to Switzerland and said, “Well, I’m sorry, Switzerland. You’re not one of the big development players. You have a choice: you can either put up or you can shut up, but we are not changing our negotiated position now. You can vote against it and let the whole thing fail, and you will be the pariah of the world.” Switzerland decided to shut up and live with the negotiated text, which it was not quite happy with. There is a real danger that if we do not ensure that we leverage work with our partners in the US and the EU, we will become a poor relation, as Switzerland was on that night of the negotiations.
As ever, Mr Hanson, it is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship. It is also a real pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Brighton, Kemptown (Lloyd Russell-Moyle), who gave a very powerful speech, and to congratulate the hon. Member for Stockton South (Dr Williams), not only on securing the debate—I am glad that it is happening today, although unfortunately it is quite short, and I hope to hear more debates like it in the future—but on his incredible work in Uganda, which I am glad he told us all about.
The UK has a long history of working with European Union partners to help some of the world’s most vulnerable nations, and figures indicate that around 11% of our aid budget is channelled through the European Commission. However, serious choices for this Government lie ahead about whether and how to co-operate with the various development institutions of the EU after Brexit, and I look forward to hearing the Minister’s response to the debate.
The Scottish National party wants to see the closest possible relationship with the EU in relation to international development. Close co-operation with our European partners has had a hugely beneficial impact, not just here in Europe in terms of our relationships, but in the world, and it has allowed us to raise, pool and co-ordinate aid and expertise.
Working with others is essential for solving many of the world’s biggest problems, including achieving gender equality, tackling tax avoidance, using diplomacy to end conflict and promote peace, and, of course, tackling the devastating impact of climate change—fragile states are hit the hardest and have the fewest resources to cope with climate change impacts.
The EU functions as a bloc within the UN framework convention on climate change, with the UK as a leading member. After Brexit, if the UK does not maintain a close relationship with the EU, our influence on global environmental and climate change policies, which affect everyone, will be significantly reduced, and the world will be a whole lot worse off for it.
At present, many UK non-governmental organisations receive funding from the European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations Directorate. Post-Brexit, they will not be able to apply for any of those funds, and they are already finding that grant applications are no longer being accepted. This situation undermines the global capacity to respond effectively to natural disasters, which is something that UK NGOs are among the best in the world at, including in terms of humanitarian recovery. All of us involved in this debate should be proud of that. However, we must make sure that Brexit does not impact the funding of those NGOs. Again, I would like to hear what the Minister has to say on that point.
After we, sadly, leave the EU—I have to say “sadly”—some will undoubtedly want aid funds to be reallocated away from foreign aid and into domestic expenditure. Can we be clear today what we are talking about here? UK aid alleviates suffering in some of the most climate-vulnerable, poverty-stricken and war-torn countries in the world. UK Government domestic expenditure policies —most notably austerity policies—are causing poverty and inequality in this country. That is a political choice and not an economic one, and it is one that the SNP does not support. We should not let these two things become conflicted.
As the UK remains committed to the 0.7% of gross national income aid target, funds that were previously channelled through EU international development activities will be reallocated to other foreign aid-related activities. However, there has recently been an alarming shift in the focus of the UK aid strategy, with increasing importance being attached to the promotion of the UK’s national interest. A key mechanism for achieving that has been to direct the aid budget away from the Department for International Development to other Departments, such as the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Ministry of Defence. Let me be crystal clear: the foreign aid budget should never be used for defence, and this development appears to be a clear attempt to dilute our efforts to achieve our No.1 goal in giving aid, which is to fight extreme poverty.
Not only that, but the International Development Secretary previously pledged to use Britain’s aid as part of
“a bold new Brexit-ready proposition to boost trade and investment with developing countries”.
It is concerning that UK aid could be used to mitigate the negative impacts of Brexit, with the UK’s security and prosperity becoming key factors in deciding how aid is spent. This direction of travel will reduce the focus on global poverty alleviation, as well as raising concerns about the transparency and accountability of aid spending outside DFID.
It is well known that Brexit will have a huge impact on the UK, but if unchecked it will also have significant repercussions on the world’s poorest people. It is vital that the UK and the EU continue to support harmonised responses and co-ordinated action to humanitarian crises. The SNP will continue to urge the Government to prioritise international development as a key dimension of our global contribution to the international community —something that all of us in this room are proud of—informed by core values of fairness and equality.
International development is about being a good global citizen, which can be accomplished only through effective international collaboration. That is why the UK Government should seek the closest possible co-operation with our European partners.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hanson. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Stockton South (Dr Williams) on securing this important debate. He spoke passionately and persuasively about what is at stake in our future relationship with the EU, and why we must get it right. We have heard a number of particularly useful contributions and points, which have been made forcefully. It is testament to how important this topic is that we would all benefit from additional time.
I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing Central and Acton (Dr Huq) and the right hon. Member for Belfast North (Nigel Dodds) for their contributions. I also thank the hon. Member for Gordon (Colin Clark), who talked about the importance of working with EU partners, my hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Kemptown (Lloyd Russell-Moyle), who reminded us that we should not disadvantage non-governmental organisations based in London when leaving the EU, given the work that they do, and the hon. Member for Dundee West (Chris Law), who talked about the importance of our relationship with the EU, and the impact on our global capacity to respond to natural disasters if funding streams are not available to the sector.
We have heard today how important it is for the Government to lay out a clear and unambiguous position on what we want from a future relationship with the EU. That simply has not happened yet. We have a Government position paper from September, but it is remarkable only for its ambiguity. As of the end of February, we now also have the so-called “non-paper” that sets out the UK perspective on development instruments for the 2021-27 general EU budget. It provides a little more detail, but it runs the risk of the Government again wanting to cherry-pick, have our cake and eat it, and demand more “creative thinking” from the EU to solve the Government’s lack of imagination and focus.
We have heard today that our humanitarian and development partnership with the EU is too important, and has too great an impact on the lives of the world’s poorest people, to warrant dragging our feet, or sliding into a snail’s pace of negotiation. I believe that the House has heard loudly and clearly that decisions over future funding contributions to the EU must be guided not by short-term political horse-trading, but by their impact on the lives of the world’s poorest.
We must not allow the lives that are at stake to become simply a bargaining chip. We have heard today from Members that, although not perfect, EU development and humanitarian programmes are well proven as an effective, value-for-money, delivery channel for the UK. They have scored very highly in our own multilateral aid review, and they allow us to pool resources and expertise, to co-ordinate better on the ground, to reach a greater number of countries, to take to scale what we do, and to influence how more than €75 billion worth of aid funding is spent. That translates into real lives saved, real girls put in school, and real crises averted.
There is a groundswell of support for the UK remaining progressive, outward-looking, generous and a global leader on international development once we leave the European Union. We must not turn inwards. We must not abandon our partnership with Europe, even as we leave the European Union. I hope that the Minister will not give credence to those who disingenuously say they want to take back control of the aid budget from Brussels, only to stop spending it on helping the world’s poorest.
The Government now need to make up for lost time, set out an ambitious, bold, clear vision, and get on with it. There are just weeks and months to do that, and the clock is ticking. As we do that, it cannot just be the Government talking to themselves. We need to hear the voices of civil society, and of people in the global south who will be affected. We need to hear the voices of the organisations that know the EU’s development and humanitarian programmes best, and that understand the impact that decisions will have. We need to hear the voices of the thousands of international development workers whose jobs in the UK are at risk.
We also need to hear the voice of Parliament, and ensure that there is proper space and time given for Members to scrutinise the Government’s vision, debate it, and shape it. That must be much more than one Westminster Hall debate, which we are having thanks only to my hon. Friend the Member for Stockton South, who forced it. I hope that the Minister will commit to significantly expanding the space for future debate on this topic in the coming weeks, because so far it has been woefully insufficient.
Our future relationship with the EU is simply too important to fail, and we need to get on with ensuring that it does not. I thank all hon. Members for their excellent contributions, and look forward to the Minister’s remarks.
I, too, congratulate the hon. Member for Stockton South (Dr Williams) on securing the first Westminster Hall debate on such an important topic. I pay tribute to his work in Uganda prior to coming to this place. It demonstrates the incredible value that people with such experience bring to our Parliament—I wanted to put that on the record.
Today’s debate could not be more timely, because on Monday we reached a milestone in terms of publishing progress on the transition of our relationship with Brussels, including the important work that we do alongside the EU in helping the world’s poorest. I echo the vision that the Prime Minister outlined in her Munich speech: we very much want the European Union to succeed after the UK has left, because that is in all our interests, and we are seeking the broadest and deepest possible partnership with the EU.
The UK will remain one of the largest development spenders and influencers in the world, as will the European Union, and we want to retain a close partnership in this area in the future. We share the same concerns, the same values, and the same commitment to the sustainable development goals, to the Paris climate change agenda, and of course to the Addis Ababa agreement on financing for development.
In UK law, we have legally entrenched our commitment to spending 0.7% of our gross national income on international development—spending that I assure hon. Members is strictly controlled by the overseas development assistance guidelines set out by the OECD. Of course, we will continue to want to work alongside the EU on new and innovative approaches for financing the incredibly important agenda of moving the billions that are spent on aid to the trillions needed to move countries out of a situation where so many people live in poverty. It is worth putting on the record that the UK is one of only five EU countries that meet the target of 0.7%, which was a United Nations resolution of many years ago. We are proud of being one of those five countries. Across the EU as a whole, the average is just 0.3%.
The UK’s development priorities are closely aligned with the EU’s. As is often said, that is because we have had considerable influence in shaping them during our membership of the EU. Our approaches to addressing the root causes of migration, for example, or to meeting humanitarian needs from the outset in a way that prepares for longer-term crises, and puts in place advance readiness for long-term crisis responses, are very much based on our common experiences and joint shaping of best practice in development programming. I was pleased to hear so many hon. Members acknowledge the UK’s leadership in this area.
It is very much in the UK and the EU’s interest that we work coherently together in the future in response to specific crises overseas, and continue to help the world’s most vulnerable. Good examples are our responses in Somalia and in the Sahel—two areas where we have joint interests in addressing the causes of conflict, and the development and humanitarian needs that arise.
It will also be important to continue to support each other where we agree on policy priorities, for example on our human rights stance at the United Nations—it is absolutely essential that we remain united on that—and at a country level. Where we hold shared commitments and objectives, it is in our mutual interest to find ways to continue working together on a case-by-case basis, to ensure that we can collectively draw on expertise and lessons learned, to achieve our global development objectives and to deliver the best value for money.
We published a future partnership paper in September, which set out our desire for future co-operation with the EU, that goes well beyond the existing third-country arrangements. We look forward to formal discussions as soon as the European Commission is ready to engage.
We have committed to meeting our financial obligations already made, during the period while we are a member, and we will continue to pay into the European development fund and other EU instruments until December 2020 when the implementation period ends. As good development donors, we will continue to honour all our commitments to the world’s poorest and to shape how those funds are spent through all the means available to us.
While we have clearly signalled to the EU our openness to a future partnership on development, the extent and depth of such a partnership will be contingent upon the current discussions between the European Commission and member states about how the EU will finance its international development after 2020. Colleagues will be aware that most of the EU’s development finance instruments do not allow participation from non-member states. They may also be aware that the Cotonou agreement on development, trade and political co-operation between the EU and the 79 African, Caribbean and Pacific countries is shortly to expire and that the EU is currently rethinking how it will finance development in the future.
A flexible, open and responsive EU is very much in everyone’s interests. For example, in deciding to open its migration trust fund to non-EU partners, the EU was able to respond swiftly and effectively to large-scale crises, working with the right partners in the right places, particularly, for example, in the horn of Africa and north Africa, where we have joint interests now and for the future. The EU’s humanitarian agency, ECHO, has shown flexibility to third-party participation in the Sahel, where the EU is the lead humanitarian donor and has a strong field presence. That has allowed key partners to boost the collective effort and coalesce around a flexible but co-ordinated approach in a region of strategic importance to both the EU and the UK.
We encourage the EU to design a new set of development instruments that builds on the positive examples of the last few years and creates an open and flexible enabling framework, within which it can work with its partners to tackle global challenges and build a secure, stable and prosperous world. We envisage that holding the development financing instruments open to third parties would enable the UK to work through the EU on a case-by-case basis, where we judge our development impact would be amplified. We have not yet made any decisions on that, and whether we actually pay in will be contingent on the kind of EU exit agreement that we finally secure.
While we remain a member state, we are fully engaged in discussions around the successor to the Cotonou agreement and on the shape of the future financial instruments, from a strategic perspective of what makes best development sense, and with a view to what will allow greatest flexibility for potential UK participation in the future. However, there would of course be certain expectations attached to any future partnership. If we opt into EU programmes when that is the most effective way to deliver our mutual objectives, we would expect to engage with the EU at a strategic level on programme direction and would need to be assured of adequate governance arrangements to allow us to track and account for our spending and the results we deliver. We are also clear that the UK’s world-class development sector should be eligible to implement EU programmes. We are very much fighting that corner.
In spite of all the uncertainty, one thing that is clear: the UK’s aid strategy and the Government’s manifesto commitments do not change in March 2019, and neither will our unwavering commitment to the world’s poorest nor our statutory commitment to spend 0.7% of gross national income, in line with the official development assistance rules set by the OECD. We will look to deliver our aid strategy through the best range of possible partnerships open to us. The EU and the UK have policy and programming objectives in common.
Where it makes best sense, we will continue to work closely with the EU on development and to implement the sustainable development goals side by side—the difference is that this time we will work with the EU where we choose to, and where it is in our mutual interest. We will be able to ensure better value for money through that choice and through tracking the impacts of our development spending. We will ensure that we continue to engage with the EU strategically, to direct our UK funds, but also on those global public benefits that we are both deeply committed to, such as global health security or mitigating the impacts of climate change.
We have signalled our future direction of co-operation very clearly to our EU counterparts, and we now need them to respond in kind. We have made our position very clear. Both sides now need to work together to make that happen.
I thank the Minister for that thorough response and for giving us some more assurance. It is important that we continue to have parliamentary scrutiny as we develop our future relationship with the EU, and I hope that this is not our final opportunity for such discussions.
I thank the hon. Member for Gordon (Colin Clark), my hon. Friends the Members for Ealing Central and Acton (Dr Huq) and for Brighton, Kemptown (Lloyd Russell-Moyle), the hon. Member for Dundee West (Chris Law) and my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Preet Kaur Gill) for their contributions to the debate. We must continue to find a way to partner with some of the key funds, as the Minister hopes, and we must continue to exert our influence. We are global leaders in international development and we cannot let Brexit affect the world’s poorest.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House has considered the UK’s future relationship with the EU on international development.