Stop peddling myths on foreign aid, minister tells critics
Britain’s foreign aid minister, Priti Patel, has told the Guardian she is fed up with the myth that all she does is sit at her desk “writing cheques to North Korea”, in her most robust response yet to critics of the foreign aid budget.
During a surprise visit to droughtstricken east Africa at the weekend, Patel, the secretary of state for international development, announced a new £60m package for Somalia, and £30m for Ethiopia, saying the sharp rise in the numbers of people needing food, water and shelter meant it was critical to stop the food crisis becoming the kind of famine that killed a quarter of a million people in Somalia in 2011.
Patel said: “The truth is that UK development influence is massive, greater than our foreign policy, and this isn’t just about money. Britain is saving lives and bringing stability and security, and that’s good for our economy and for what comes to our doorstep.” She said Britain could take much of the credit for averting a huge loss of life in east Africa so far this year.
In an exclusive interview, her first since last week’s cabinet reshuffle, which saw her reappointed to the role, Patel said it was the UK’s investment in “resilience” and the early lead taken by the Department for International Development – which put £110m into Somalia in January and persuaded the World Bank to add another £40m – that had kept the death rate down.
“Britain can stand tall on this one. People need feeding and people need shelter, people are dying right now from cholera and measles. Famine is tragic, I cannot find the words to describe how appalling the situation in South Sudan is, children wasting away, children in camps alone because their parents have been murdered. I was the one who was on the phone to UN secretary general [António] Guterres in January, calling the UN out on this, and the [aid] agencies. We have to be integrated on this,” she said.
“My priority is saving lives but in development that doesn’t just mean putting food in mouths, that means investing in jobs and peace and stability, in education.”
Patel’s tenure has seen the department dogged by criticism from the right over programmes, waste and spending, and sniping from those opposed to the aid commitment of 0.7% of GDP, a UN target ringfenced by David Cameron. It has also come under attack from the left for appearing to “share” its budget with other departments, with an alleged lack of transparency.
“We have been in goal defence,” said