This party conference season, Brexit is set to continue to dominate conversation and regardless of how you voted in the referendum, most will agree this is a historic moment for the UK, forcing us to redefine our place in the world and what kind of country we want to be.
Theresa May has called for a “truly Global Britain that reaches beyond the border of Europe” and I agree. We should use this unique opportunity to forge an even more positive, global future for ourselves and UK Aid must be a key part of this.
You wouldn’t know it from our newspapers, but Britain is a global leader in development. The work we do is hugely respected across the world, and the Department for International Development (DFID) is regarded as one of the world’s most transparent, effective aid donors. UK aid is a key part of the UK’s global offering, flying the flag for Britain around the world. Something that is more important now than ever before.
Our achievements should be a source of great national pride. We have helped make the world safer, healthier and better off. British aid has got 11 million children into the classroom, helped ensure Mozambique became landmine free and saved 6.2 million people from dying of malaria. These achievements should make the British public incredibly proud. However, I am also unashamed to admit that this isn’t a mere act of altruism but is very much in our own national interest.
UK Aid is a vital component in spreading global prosperity and growth and as a trading nation, our success depends on thriving, healthy, global markets. The Prime Minister recently visited Africa, now home to 16% of the world’s population. Investing in the phenomenal economic power of this young population will be absolutely key to make a success of post-Brexit Global Britain, with Africa’s GDP set to reach $3.2 trillion in the next five years and the continent being home to five of the world’s fastest-growing economies.
By stimulating economic growth and job creation in regions such as Africa we can make sure that our development partners of today become trading partners of tomorrow. Take South Korea, a former aid recipient that has become a high-income country, providing jobs, investment and trade for the UK. Last year the UK traded £7.2bn worth of goods and services with South Korea, making them one of our top trading partners in East Asia.
There is a huge amount of talent and potential waiting to be unlocked in developing countries and the demographics are stark. In Africa alone, we need 55,000 jobs every day to accommodate new entrants into the workforce. If we do nothing we risk a lost generation and increased challenges from migration, destabilisation and radicalisation.
The good news is that the UK is good at this. The Department for International Development created their first economic development strategy last year and CDC, DFID’s economic development arm, helped create over one million new jobs in Africa and South Asia in 2015. If you believe that Britain should embrace the new trading opportunities that Brexit offers, then this is the exact type of initiative that we should support.
But it’s not just about the economics. UK Aid also sends a clear message about Britain’s values and role in the world.
We may be leaving the European Union but that doesn’t mean we are turning our backs on the world. Far from it, we should use this opportunity to go out into the world to build relationship with old friends and new allies alike, forging an even more positive, global future for ourselves. Our investment in aid is an important way in which we do this and demonstrate that we do not neglect our duty to the world’s poorest.
That doesn’t mean we can be complacent. Recent events show us, once again, how important it is to scrutinise every partner we work with and every program we fund. Wasting aid and funding corruption and exploitation is criminal and we must be thorough is routing this out to ensure our aid is invested carefully, strategically and coherently.
I would never try to claim that aid is a silver bullet – it’s not. On its own it cannot solve all the world’s problems – but alongside our free trade agenda, active diplomacy, and our strategy for defence, it has the potential to be an incredible force for good in the world, while also helping to ensure the UK maintains its position as a leader on the world stage.
Brexit is a chance to make us a more global and outward looking country. We must seize this opportunity and boldly champion our values at home and abroad. That is why when told “charity begins at home” I agree. However, it does not end there.
To hear more and have your say join The Coalition for Global Prosperity for a debate on ‘Should Charity Begin and End at Home?’ taking place at 17.45-19.15 on Monday 1st October in Hall 9, The International Convention Centre, Conservative Party Conference (inside secure zone).