A “new era of co-operation and partnership” - the words of the Prime Minister about the future of Britain’s foreign relations during her speech in Florence.
Sadly, since then, we have seen Brexit negotiations falter and rising tensions between the Foreign Office and the Department for International Development over aid spending.
Before being elected to Parliament, I spent several years working as a doctor in Uganda, providing healthcare to some of the world’s poorest communities. I was able to see up close the difference that UK aid made to those who needed it the most.
A genuine commitment to international development was one of the proudest achievements of the last Labour Government. Helping to lift 3 million people out of poverty every year, sending 40 million more children to school and writing off debts for the world’s poorest nations.
And as we debate HIV/AIDS in Parliament this week, it’s worth remember the last Labour Government also delivered the biggest ever Government investment in fighting HIV & Aids.
To give credit to the Government, much of this has continued over the last seven years. This reputation cannot now be tarnished through murky backroom deals with foreign militaries. Instead, we should be investing further in the world’s poorest communities, lifting more people out of poverty and building local capacity to reduce long-term dependency on UK aid. We should be investing in conflict resolution and strengthening the economies of developing nations.
Brexit will pose new diplomatic challenges for our country. The Foreign Office has already created an additional 50 positions in UK embassies across the EU and will likely spend even more on foreign policy in the coming months. Despite this, the recent Budget had nothing to say about how the Government intends to finance our future relationship with the world.
Global growth forecasts from the IMF are for 3.6% this year. But the OBR forecasts have been revised down, predicting UK economic growth of just 1.5%. As we slump to the lowest growth rate in the G7 – it’s hardly a sign of a Government leading the world stage.
An active and influential British foreign policy outside the EU will clearly require more investment. We will need more diplomats, trade experts and negotiators, as well as more staff in Brussels to keep any kind of influence there. At the same time, we will no longer able to leverage billions of EU funding as part of our international efforts.
The previous International Development Secretary, Priti Patel, once suggested her department should be abolished. More recently she had suggested aid could be redirected and used instead to secure trade deals. The need to spend more on foreign policy cannot be delivered at the expense of the world’s poorest.
As we lose the European Medicines Agency and our place on the International Court of Justice, our country looks in danger of becoming impotent on the world stage. The new DfID Secretary has an opportunity to demonstrate that our country remains committed to being a leader on international development and tackling global poverty, diseases and health inequality.
Leadership may be in short supply in the current Conservative Party but if this Government wants to continue to command any respect from our neighbours and allies, they must be bold and renew their commitment to supporting the world’s poorest.