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International Development: Co-operation with the EU

Volume 794: debated on Tuesday 11 December 2018


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what measures they propose to secure continued co-operation on international development programmes and funding in partnership with the European Union.

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper and draw attention to my entry in the register of interests.

My Lords, the political declaration sets out a vision for our future relationship with the EU. It provides for future UK-EU dialogue on development co-operation and for further discussions on how we might contribute to EU instruments in areas of mutual interest. Any further participation will be subject to the structure of EU instruments in the next multiannual financial framework post-2020, and to adequate UK oversight and participation for UK organisations.

My Lords, the UK delivers around £1.5 billion of its aid through EU institutions, which amounts to about 12% of the EU budget, and it is rated good or very good under DfID criteria. Given the challenging objective under the UN of ending absolute poverty by 2030 and leaving no one behind, and that the Government state that we share the same concerns, values and commitments to the sustainable developing goals as the EU, will he ensure that we continue to work closely with the EU in partnership? Will he give an absolute commitment that, whatever form Brexit takes, there will be no disruption to programmes, which could cause the poor to suffer or even die?

I am very happy to reiterate the commitment on the important matter of humanitarian programmes in the unlikely event of a no deal. The more general point is covered in paragraph 108 of the political declaration, which talks about and articulates that very clear ambition. Of course, the EU itself is in a process of change in the instruments available. The EDF is coming to the end of its lifetime, and there is now discussion about a new neighbourhood instrument. We want to see what shape that takes before making any longer-term decisions, but the noble Lord is absolutely right to say that our interests and those of our European friends are very much aligned in this area.

My Lords, would my noble friend agree that one of the biggest barriers to prosperity and development for developing countries is the European Union’s customs union, which results in their products being made less competitive and unable to reach our markets?

One of the things that we can be incredibly proud of relating to the poorest countries in the world is the work done to give tariff-free, quota-free access to UK markets and to the EU for about 100 of the poorest countries in the world. We are committed to replicating that. In fact, we have already done so through the cross-border trade Act, which has already passed through your Lordships’ House.

My Lords, would the noble Lord agree that if the EU did not exist, this sort of Question would be a very good reason for inventing it? I give the examples of Burundi and Gabon, which each have only about one person competent to deal with a whole number of areas. Would it not be ridiculous if each European country came and told them that the criteria for auditing and testing were to be done 27 different ways? It is vital that this kind of co-ordination continues, preferably by the EU with British participation.

Actually, for the vast majority of interventions of the type the noble Lord mentions we are talking about not EU but UN systems where we seek to have greater harmony. A lot of the things we seek to do with the sustainable development goals are a UN commitment. Our climate change ambitions are driven by a UN framework. There are lots of things that we work together on, but they tend to be more supranational, rather than in large bodies such as the European Union.

My Lords, the fact is that the political declaration says very good words about the EDF and the need for Britain’s participation. Clearly, the Government have signed up to that. We are all a bit tired of the mantra that it is all subject to negotiation and these are all hypothetical questions. I ask the noble Lord to set out before the House now what the Government aspire to. How do they see participation and what do they see as the likely costs? Will we be able to control those costs? Because I think the public are being hoodwinked.

We propose to leave the European Union on 29 March with a deal and that will then lead to the negotiation of a framework. During the implementation period that is proposed, we will continue to be party to the European Development Fund. When the new neighbourhood instrument is developed, we will evaluate it in light of our priorities and whether our European friends will allow a third country to be party to it. If so, we might continue to participate in it, but one thing is for sure: whatever happens in the course of Brexit, our overall commitment to the world’s poorest, as a leader in this area, will not be shaken at all.

My Lords, our EU membership has allowed the UK not only to magnify the impact of our aid but also to influence EU development policy to suit our own objectives. Therefore, potential impacts if the UK leaves the EU include a reduction in the global impact of the UK’s ODA and a reduction in value for money. Has DfID made any attempt to evaluate this, both in monetary terms and in terms of the damage done to our part in delivering the global SDGs?

What we have made clear—I made it clear myself at the Foreign Affairs Council on development which I attended in Brussels two weeks ago—is that we believe that the future partnership needs to focus much more on three areas: peace and security; migration, and delivery of the sustainable development goals as part of that; and climate change. We believe that to focus on those and on the least developed countries will be the best way forward. We are making those arguments now because we will continue to be a strong member of the European Union until 29 March.

Given that one crucial element of a successful overseas development policy is to get the aid as rapidly as possible to the front line where it is needed, can the Minister tell us whether any study has been made of whether that is best accomplished via the European Union, with whatever bureaucracy may be involved in that, or by the money and the support going directly to the field—to the mine clearance or whatever it might be—directly from the British Government to the people that need it in the front line?

Indeed. Most of these funding mechanisms are commissioning organisations, either European or through DfID; therefore funds do not actually get delivered by the European institutions. Rather, they commission organisations such as UNICEF or the ICRC to deliver that work on the ground. Most of it is done, essentially, through co-operation through the United Nations: that is what we are all working together for and, of course, that will be subject to no change whatever.