This week’s Spring declaration was a major setback for Britain and our place on the world stage. Britain has a proud reputation. We have seen the compassion of the British public over the last few weeks and the values that matter to us: freedom, democracy, human rights. But what the government has set out today does not embody these ideals when it comes to how Britain behaves on the world stage.
In this dark hour, we must not underestimate the extent of the challenge before us.
In Ukraine – Putin and his armies carry out war crimes on a daily basis. And all around us, we see the Kremlin’s fingerprints everywhere – from the threat separatist groups in Bosniawhere the potential for further conflict seems to be ever-increasing, to the role of Russian mercenaries as f. The Wagner Group in the Sahel.
We have huge humanitarian crises – in Yemen; and Tigrayand in Afghanistan – which will only be exacerbated by the war in Ukraine and the contagious impact on food prices. And we are facing the emergence of a systemic challenger to the West in the form of China.
It is quite clear that our proud nation has done too little for too long. Despite all the rhetoric from the Conservatives about our place in the world, they do not live up to Global Britain’s cloak. Their narrow, self-interested approach does nothing but damage our position on the world stage. We have prioritized small quarrels with our allies over standing united in the name of liberal democracy.
And today, Rishi Sunak and the Conservative government have once again shown that they are not up to the challenge – instead, they have doubled.
They cut in our foreign office. They cut into our international development budget.
These decisions send a signal to our allies, and also to our opponents, about where the Conservatives’ priorities really are.
These three areas represent totemic pillars in Britain’s power on the world stage. We need them so we can keep ourselves and our allies safe; so we can act as a force for good.
In light of Putin’s aggression, we should not cut our armed forces – we should invest in them and promise our support for our NATO allies. We should give an injection of horsepower back into the Rolls Royce of diplomacy, the Foreign Office, so Britain can get things done all over the world. And we should immediately restore the international development goal – a goal that was statutory of the Liberal Democrats when we ruled as part of the coalition.
The decision to cut the international development budget is a historic mistake. The Conservatives simply do not understand what they are doing. Development spending from our country not only helps the world’s poorest – but it’s in our national interest. Where we leave, others stand ready and wait to fill the void.
All Conservative MPs committed to use 0.7 per cent. of GNI (gross national income) on international development during the last parliamentary elections. That promise they broke. Then the chancellor promised that the aid budget would be restored before the next general election (a pretty appropriate time, you might think). But today there was no mention of that promise. Chancellor’s “tax tests” for the aid budget is designed so that the budget is never restored.
The reality is that we simply can not afford to wait.
We are fighting humanitarian crises with one hand tied behind our back. Due to the risky accounts of the Conservatives, we are now likely to face a terrible decision to provide aid to Ukraine or Afghanistan. It does not have to be this way – the cut can be reversed right away.
For far too long, short-term political expediency has been the driving force behind the government’s approach to Britain’s place in the world.
If we do not invest in our position on the world stage; if we do not have enough troops, or diplomats or aid workers, then our reputation and our status will naturally be eroded.
Britain deserves better than this.
If ever there was a time to finally invest in our foreign, defense and development capabilities, it’s right now. Rishi Sunak is guilty of making a historical mistake.
Layla Moran is the Liberal Democrat’s spokeswoman for foreign affairs and international development