Rory Stewart was appointed to his new position yesterday after Penny Mordant was promoted from the role to defence secretary following Gavin Williamson’s firing. Mr Stewart served as former prisons minister and said the foreign aid target was “hugely important.” Foreign aid has more than doubled in the past ten years, and has overtaken the £13billion police budget for England and Wales in 2018.
Former Tory pensions minister Baroness Altmann said of the aid expenditure: “It can’t be right that we can afford to help third world countries while we seem to be unable to offer more than third world care to our elderly citizens.”
Latest figures from the Department for International Development caused controversy and calls to drop the 0.7 percent target.
Last year’s total budget was equivalent to £10 a week for every UK household.
Tory MP Jacob Rees-Mogg has previously demanded equivalent rises in the amount spent on health and education.
Mr Rees-Mogg said: “It remains an extravagance in an era of continuing austerity.”
When asked about whether the foreign aid budget should be cut, Mr Stewart said: “It’s hugely important, also after Brexit. We have to come out of Brexit, proud global Britain.
“Obviously, we are going through a difficult stage, our relationship with Europe is difficult, we’re going to have to make a new relationship with the world, and having some money to do it, some resources to do it – to put Britain on the world stage again – is hugely important.”
Mr Stewart also said tackling climate change would be an important aspect of his work, agreeing with Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn’s stance that the world is facing a climate change emergency.
He said: “People can get into the arguments about the language, but it’s a cataclysm that the ice sheet is going at 10 times the predicted rate and we’ll lose 30 or 40 percent of species on earth by 2050 … the work that DfID does internationally is right at the heart of it.
I would argue that spending, not 7 percent, not 1 percent, but 0.7 percent of your GDP on that kind of issue really makes a difference, not just to the planet but to you and me.”
World Vision UK’s head of policy, advocacy and campaigns Gavin Crowden said Mr Stewart’s experience will serve him well for his role.
Mr Crowden said he hopes Mr Stewart would put the UK aid “back on track.”
He added: “I fear that Penny Mordant, at times, lost sight of the real purpose of aid.”
Penny Mordant is the UK’s first female Defence Secretary. She will also keep her role as Minister for Women and Equalities.
She was a Royal Naval reservist and a served as Secretary of State for International Development from 2017 to 2019.