The UK government announced that it will not meet its legal commitment to deliver 0.7% of its gross national income (GNI) as official development assistance (ODA) in 2021 and instead only provide 0.5% of GNI.
The government has stated that the UK’s ODA budget will be £10.0 billion (US$13.0 billion) in 2021 as a result of this cut, which is nearly a third smaller than the UK’s 2019 budget. The announcement was made as part of the UK government’s Comprehensive Spending Review, which usually sets the multi-year budgets for all government departments but this year only set the budgets for one year (Financial Year 2020-21), due to the uncertainty of the coming years.
The ODA cuts and one-year budget were cited as a response to the negative economic impact of the COVID-19 crisis on the UK economy and, thus, on public finances. The UK economy is forecast to fall by 11.3% in 2020—the largest annual fall for over 300 years, according to Sunak—and UK government debt levels are forecast to 19.0% of GDP in 2020-21, the highest peacetime level on record.
The government has stated that the cuts are on a temporary basis and that it intends to go back to the 0.7% target when the fiscal situation allows. However, how long this will take is not clear and the government will be proposing new legislation to the British parliament in the second half of 2021 to put the 0.5% target into law. It is possible that the law may get rejected by the parliament, but it will require a significant pushback by Conservative members of parliament (MP) to do so, given the size of the Conservatives' majority in parliament.
The former Conservative Secretary of State for International Development, Andrew Mitchell, who is seen to be leading the "rebellion", according to the Guardian, has noted that he is already close to gathering 40 "rebels" and could get another 30 to block the proposal. The Chair of the Parliamentary Foreign Affairs Committee, Tom Tugendhat, a Conservative MP for Tonbridge and Malling, has proposed requiring any new legislation to include a cut-off date by which the 0.7% target will be reinstated.
The decision to abandon the UK’s 0.7% target has been widely criticized by former prime ministers, religious groups, business representatives, and civil society, and it led to Baroness Sugg, Minister for Overseas Territories and Sustainable Development and the UK’s first special envoy on girls’ education, resigning in protest at the announcement.