We ask: what could a post-Brexit ‘global Britain’ look like?
This week in Westminster looks set to be another ride on the Brexit roller-coaster.
But as we whizz along to 29 March and anticipate the meaningful, meaningful votes next week, the conversations inside Parliament have been turning increasingly to what a post-Brexit ‘global Britain’ might look like. And, more specifically, what kind of player we should be on the international development stage.
Debating the role of ODA
It might not have escaped your notice that since Christmas, the steady stream of attacks on the UK’s Overseas Development Assistance (ODA) has continued apace.
Historically, the bulk of these attacks have been on the UK’s commitment to spend 0.7% of Gross National Income (GNI). But recent attacks have focused not so much on the sum of ODA as the way it is administered.
Most notably, a Henry Jackson Society report last month, endorsed by former Foreign Secretary and all round high-profile political figure Boris Johnson MP, argued that the Department for International Development should be merged with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.
It also said that ODA should be spent in a way that advances the UK's economic and strategic interests – rather than on serving the needs of the world's poorest and most marginalised people, such as adolescent girls, who face a range of barriers to have their basic needs met.
But last week there were two debates in Parliament on international development in which a strong number of MPs from across all parties reiterated their support for UK ODA and ensuring that it reaches the most marginalised.
In a debate on global education, MPs called on the Government to increase their financial commitment to education in low income countries through the Education Cannot Wait fund – a call which Plan International UK fully endorses.
But importantly, MPs weren’t just making the case for education funding throughout the debate. They were also calling on the Government to recognise and respond to the specific challenges that girls face in accessing education.
David Linden MP encapsulated this when he made the point that:
For some girls, the situation is truly terrible. Preet Gill MP referenced findings by researchers at the University of Cambridge which showed that girls living in poverty in Pakistan and Nigeria spend an average of just one year in school, and in India, Mozambique, Cameroon and Sierra Leone they spend just two years.
John Howell MP also made an important contribution as he highlighted the need for DfID to fund projects that promote equality in girls’ social and economic situations.
And in a second debate which focused on the current question marks around the future of an independent DfID, we saw support for DfID from across the House.
Dan Carden MP’s point on DfID’s role promoting health, education and mainstreaming gender equality globally was an important one. He said that:
Our role in the world after Brexit
It is right that we are having these difficult conversations about what international development and our role in the world after Brexit will look like, and of course healthy debate is to be encouraged.
But there is no doubt that the UK’s commitment to spend 0.7% of GNI on ODA and DfID’s global leadership on girls’ rights is both the right thing to do and a significant source of soft power.
So, there must be absolutely no doubt over the future of an independent DfID or the aid budget. (If you’re interested, the United Nations Association produced a report last month which highlighted the importance of the 0.7 commitment to maintaining the UK’s global influence.)
In the coming months and years, one way or another, the Brexit debate will move on. Either way, we will have to live out the kind of global Britain that is being forged in the very hot Westminster kiln right now.
The decisions that are made both formally and informally will matter for years to come. So, it is essential that the case for aid, an independent DfID and prioritising the rights and needs of adolescent girls and other vulnerable people continue to be heard loud and clear right across Westminster.
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