'A very sad moment': David Cameron says Rishi Sunak made 'mistake' by cutting foreign aid budget

  • Video report by ITV News Correspondent Romilly Weeks

Former prime minister David Cameron has said he "deeply regrets" Rishi Sunak's decision to cut the UK's foreign aid budget, saying it was a "mistake" to break a promise made to the poorest people in the world.

"It's a very sad moment," Mr Cameron said when asked for his thoughts on the chancellor's move to break a manifesto pledge by cutting the overseas aid budget from 0.7% of gross national income to 0.5%.

He added: "We're breaking a promise to the poorest people and the poorest countries in the world - a promise that we made and a promise that we don't have to break."

Mr Sunak said it was "difficult to justify" sticking with the 0.7% aid budget, but Mr Cameron said it is "not a huge commitment to make" in order to carry on helping the world's poorest.

The chancellor said it is the government's “intention” to return to 0.7% when the fiscal situation allows, but Mr Cameron claimed the UK "could afford to keep this promise".

Mr Sunak defended the move, saying in the context of the UK's economic situation, "it's right that we focus on the British people's priorities and that has meant I've had to make some tough decisions".

He said the UK will still contribute £10 billion to "support the poorest countries across the world next year", meaning it is is still "one of the most generous".

His attack followed that of the Archbishop of Canterbury, who said it was “shameful and wrong” to cut the aid budget.

The cut also prompted Foreign Office minister Baroness Sugg to quit in protest.

She told the prime minister in her resignation letter: "Cutting UK aid risks undermining your efforts to promote a Global Britain and will diminish our power to influence other nations to do what is right. I cannot support or defend this decision."And Archbishop Justin Welby tweeted: “The cut in the aid budget – made worse by no set date for restoration – is shameful and wrong. It’s contrary to numerous Government promises and its manifesto.

“I join others in urging MPs to reject it for the good of the poorest, and the UK’s own reputation and interest,” he added.

Oxfam chief executive Danny Sriskandarajah said: “Cutting the UK’s lifeline to the world’s poorest communities in the midst of a global pandemic will lead to tens of thousands of otherwise preventable deaths.”

Highlighting the Government’s announcement of an increase in spending on defence, Mr Sriskandarajah added: “At a time when hundreds of millions of people are hungry and decades of progress against poverty is under threat, today’s decision is a false economy which diverts money for clean water and medicines to pay for bombs and bullets.”

The criticism follows interventions ahead of the statement from former prime ministers Sir John Major, David Cameron and Tony Blair, as well as Nobel Prize laureate Malala Yousafzai.

(PA Graphics) Credit: PA Graphics

Sir John told The Times: “Cutting our overseas aid is morally wrong and politically unwise. It breaks our word and damages our soft power.

“Above all, it will hurt many of the poorest people in the world.

“I cannot and do not support it.”

The 0.7% target is written into law and Mr Johnson’s 2019 election manifesto promised to keep it.