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Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak

Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak. Photo: Andrew Parsons / No10 Downing Street / Flickr / CC BY-NC-ND, license linked at bottom of article

The cut to the foreign aid budget is symptomatic of Tory racism and a disdain for working class people at home and abroad, argues Lucy Nichols

This week Tory MPs voted to lock in the cut to Britain’s foreign aid budget of £4bn, down from 0.7% to 0.5% of gross national income.

Tories were split over this vote, with former Prime Minister Theresa May arguing that the UK had broken its promise to the world’s poor. A sizeable 25 Tory MPs rebelled against this move, with criticism also coming from peers in the House of Lords, charities and NGOs.

The government gave MPs less than 24 hours to prepare for the vote, announcing it on Monday evening and voting on Tuesday.

The cuts will leave many of the world’s most vulnerable people far worse off; refugees, women victims of sexual violence, starving children and many thousands of Yemenis will be left without vital aid. This all in the middle of a pandemic, with global shortages of the vaccine – thanks in no small part to Britain blocking attempts to waive vaccine patents.

Boris Johnson defended the Conservative government’s latest cut as a measure in keeping down public debt at a time of economic slowdown. Johnson went on to defend his decision, asserting that this cut to foreign aid will allow for more money to be spent on ‘the NHS, schools and the police’, promising to increase the foreign aid budget to its original 0.7% of GNI when circumstances improve.

It is laughable that the government intends to spend the £4bn not spent on foreign aid at home, when the same government has increased military spending by £16.5bn in the middle of a pandemic, spent £37bn on a track and trace system that doesn’t work and has been exposed giving away hundreds of millions of public money to their mates in dodgy contracts.

Meanwhile, there’s no money for a proper pay rise for NHS workers, or to maintain the universal credit uplift or triple lock on pensions, or lest we forget, to feed the poorest children in the country until Marcus Rashford kicks up a fuss.

Johnson’s attempt to pit foreign aid against the misery he’s responsible for at home is only a reflection of his government’s cruelty, and a reminder of its disdain for working class people here and all over the world.

But I can’t say I’m surprised: Britain’s foreign policy is one shaped by greed, war and strange aspirations for a lost colonial past. We cannot forget the nation’s disastrous treatment of the Global South, it’s repeated militarist interventions in just about every continent on the planet.

Britain already has blood on its hands, and by cutting foreign aid the government has condemned many thousands to even more suffering in the face of impoverishment, famine and disease. We should not forget Britain’s role in creating and contributing to these conditions in the first place – either directly such as with the war in Yemen, or by being at the forefront of a neocolonial economic system that keeps countries in the Global South poor.

The decision to slash the foreign aid budget comes at the same time as Priti Patel’s attacks on asylum seekers and is part and parcel of racism endemic to Boris Johnson’s government. The same racism that was stoked and fed into the abuse of black football players. This government has to be stopped and the opposition must come from below in a united movement against racism, austerity and war.

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