Penny Mordaunt: Foreign aid is at heart of Britain’s role in the world

Penny Mordaunt is the International Development Secretary.
Penny Mordaunt is the International Development Secretary.
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WHY do thirteen million Brits volunteer every month to help others?

Because we’re leaders. We take responsibility. We feel motivated to act, to share what we have, to help.

Whether it is the needy in our own communities. Or those fleeing terror on the other side of the world.

We hate not being able to help, when there aren’t immediate answers, or a course of action is frustrated.

Research undertaken by Eurobarometer found that 89 per cent of Britons believe that helping developing nations is the right thing to do, and they are especially supportive of crisis aid, health and education. They’ve learned through much experience that the best place to stop evil is where it starts.

They believe that good aid is the good that it does. Not how much we spend, or how good it makes us feel, the question is what it achieves. And some believe we should set out to do the most good we possibly can with what resource we have.

That if we can tackle global poverty and deliver the global goals and benefit the UK into the bargain, then we should.

They’re right to believe that.

The public have no truck with the polarised views of aid.

Such as the view that we can only deliver a global goal in the recipient nation, and that if we chose to do it in a way that also brings other benefits, even if it is the most efficient, even if it is most sustainable way of doing it, that this is somehow less worthy. The public know that is perverse. This view is that it is better to fail at delivering the global goals, than let others – such as the private sector – help. The public know that is dogma.

Or the view that we should withdraw from the world, put up a great big shield and focus solely on our own shores. The public know that that is asking for trouble. They know their history. They understand the connections. Between global health security and our own health. Between trading partners and our own prosperity. Between security in fragile states, and violent extremism on our streets.

And they understand that our ability to act in our own or another’s interest is predicated on our own capabilities and resources. And, in fact, the commitment to spend 0.7 per cent of GDP on aid makes that explicit. If our economy does poorly, the aid budget shrinks, if we do well, we can do more. There is a strong desire amongst the public that we as a nation should have the power to influence, to prevent, to deter and to intervene, even when that means us standing alone.

Our greatest accomplishments have been driven by that courage and by these values. To fight, whether it is with arms, with knowledge or science and discovery, against tyranny, against hunger, against disease, for humanity’s sake.

Our nation was the cradle for democracy, the fight against slavery and for universal suffrage. It was the provenance of the Paralympics and Amnesty International, for Leonard Cheshire, and of Live Aid. The British people believe in ‘we’ not ‘they’. There is only ‘us’. As President Kennedy pointed out: “We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our children’s future. And we are all mortal.”

We are determined to be a great global nation. And to be a great global nation we need the trinity of the ‘three Ds’.

We need the influence and encouragement of diplomacy.

We need the aid, alleviation and economic empowerment of development.

And we need the stability, deterrence and, as a last resort, the intervention of defence.

All three are essential. We know we can only talk softly if we carry a big stick. And we know that without diplomacy and the 0.7 per cent on aid we are going to need an even bigger stick.

No, it is not a lack of logic that causes public concern over UK aid. Nor is it a lack of love. It is a lack of trust that we are spending their money well.

That concern – shared by 50 per cent of those polled on this issue – is one that we must address head on and not just because it’s their money we are spending.

Global Britain must mean a country with which the rest of the world wants to engage. It must also mean a Britain which promotes and defends national interests. Our values, our institutions and our collective offer must be world-class.

To do that that our development offer must be something that we can be really proud of.

To borrow from the Prime Minister, we need a development offer that “works for everyone”. That means that 0.7 per cent must not just “be spent well”, but “could not be better spent”.

The 0.7 per cent figure is often spoken about as though spending it is the goal. The public want a greater focus on the outcomes.

It’s about what we’re doing, not just what we’re spending.

Our offer should also reflect the public’s strong support of control and independence of our programming and the value they place on partnership. Partnership between nations, between businesses, between institutions and between people.

It should reflect the people’s priorities of Global Britain. It should unashamedly have British values at its heart. And it should be fit for the world as it is today.

Penny Mordaunt MP is the International Development Secretary. This is an edited version of her keyote speech The Mission for Global Britain.