Britain's International Development Must Do More To Tackle Conflict

05/06/2017 16:56 BST | Updated 05/06/2017 16:56 BST
PA Wire/PA Images

Last week in Britain we celebrated ten years of the charity Ammalife. Established to tackle the death of young mothers in some of the poorest countries in the world, Ammalife has made an extraordinary impact. But still today, as every day, nearly 1000 women will die in childbirth - on what should be one of the happiest days in any woman's life. Here, in Britain, tragically, eight in 100,000 mothers will die in childbirth this year. In Somalia the comparable figure is 100 times greater. A quarter of the world's children remain malnourished, and the ghastly spectre of famine is stalking South Sudan, Yemen and northern Nigeria.

The truth we learn from Ammalife's experience is that across the poorest and most wretched parts of the world, conflict and fighting represent development in reverse. It is conflict - not cash - which is the primary roadblock to progress. In many ways tackling conflict today has many of the hallmarks of medicine 500 years ago: there is a lot of trial and error; if one treatment doesn't work, we try another.

We need to act more effectively to stop conflict starting, and to reconcile communities once the fighting stops. The example of Rwanda, which has lifted over a million of its citizens out of poverty during the last decade, shows what can be achieved once brutality is ended and order restored.

Syria demonstrates this so well: the former UN Secretary General came tantalisingly close to negotiating a deal in 2012, which was then vetoed by President Obama. Today as we witness the catastrophe that has engulfed the Middle East, the Western World would give a lot to resurrect that deal and accept what Kofi Annan had negotiated and achieved.

Somalia shows why tackling conflict is the first and foremost International Development intervention. All else flows from it. In 2012 and again in the last few weeks international summits, convened in London, addressed Somalia: countering the terrorists in the Al-Qaeda affiliate Al-Shabaab, bolstering accountability and showing that public services can deliver for ordinary people. These Somalian security achievements not only help those living in some of the most wretched conditions on the planet; they make us safer in Britain on the streets of London and Birmingham - just 5 years ago there were more UK passport holders training in terrorist camps in Somalia than in either Afghanistan or Pakistan.

So if it is self evident that conflict, turmoil, corruption and state failure are holding back development, so too is the evidence of the massive problems these ills are stoking up for us in the UK:- Somalis are joining Sudanese, Eritrean, Malian and Libyans from across North Africa as they make their way towards the Mediterranean. Thereafter they place themselves in the hands of the modern day equivalent of the slave trader and make the dangerous journey in a leaky boat across the Mediterranean in the hope of tipping up on a safer and more prosperous European shore. Nearly 11 million Syrians are also on the move, with more than one million settling in Europe. All these people deserve a more humane and better-funded approach to refugees, and it is of particular note that Britain's contribution to helping refugees in and around Syria has been greater than the whole of the rest of the EU combined.

While controlled migration can bring benefits to Britain, this kind of large scale forced movement of people comes with dangers for us in the UK: terrorism; the near-certainty in our generation of an international pandemic; trade protectionism - all exacerbated by the migration and poverty-inducing effects of climate change destroying livelihoods as land becomes uncultivable in the poorest parts of the world. British development policy has long been designed to combat all of this and we must do more to tackle the underlying causes: conflict, turmoil and state failure.

So it is in this area that Global Britain can now play an increasingly effective role as we leave the EU.

Britain has recognised that wiring together International Development with our defence capacity and with the diplomatic muscle of the Foreign Office through the British National Security Council (set up in 2010) secures much greater success in delivering the International Development results which are so clearly in our national interest and of which the UK is an acknowledged leader.

The EU will be diminished when we leave but will remain a crucial partner and political ally in pursuing common international objectives. On leaving we will get back from the EU the 7 billion pounds of British development money provided by our taxpayers over the next 5 years. Taking back control of this British aid funding enables us to focus our efforts on tackling these issues which threaten our - and future - generations in the UK and build the partnerships and alliances that align most closely with British objectives.

By working with NATO and creating a new relationship with our European allies Global Britain can multiply our impact and develop a completely fresh approach to tackling these evils: a new alliance to combat the conflict and state turmoil that drives poverty and forced displacement in North Africa and the Middle East. Set up by Global Britain joining with our partners in Europe who are similarly affected by these threats. Together with our European allies we will have a mutual interest in helping stem uncontrolled migration into Europe by stimulating markets on Europe's borders through investing in trade, training skills, and state structures.

We contribute ideas, institutions and practical resources alongside the progressive vision set out by Theresa May to end child trafficking and modern day slavery. Above all it is through being economically active and having a job that poor people lift themselves out of poverty. Working with our European allies to face a common foe will be a clear demonstration that we may be leaving the EU but not Europe - where we have close alliances, common interests and the security skills and resources which are hugely important in battling the causes of conflict.

This approach is made yet more comprehensive by bringing to the table the skills and abilities of CDC - the British Government's development finance institution - and the engagement of our intelligence agencies. The European Union as our partner brings the benefit of the European Development Fund and the European Investment Bank.

Britain is respected around the world for effective leadership on International Development. We now need to demonstrate that after Brexit we will play our part as Global Britain: working effectively with our European allies and others in a new post-EU relationship that delivers and inspires, which embodies our outward-looking international values and emphasises our determination to play our part in making the world a better place.

We can demonstrate that Global Britain is not just good for Britain, but good for the world.

Andrew Mitchell is the Conservative candidate for Sutton Coldfield and a former international development secretary