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Harriett Baldwin responds to international development debate

21st March 2018

Harriett Baldwin responds to a Westminster Hall debate on the UK’s future relationship with the EU on international development.

The Minister of State, Department for International Development (Harriett Baldwin)

I, too, congratulate the hon. Member for Stockton South (Dr Williams) on securing the first Westminster Hall debate on such an important topic. I pay tribute to his work in Uganda prior to coming to this place. It demonstrates the incredible value that people with such experience bring to our Parliament—I wanted to put that on the record.

Today’s debate could not be more timely, because on Monday we reached a milestone in terms of publishing progress on the transition of our relationship with Brussels, including the important work that we do alongside the EU in helping the world’s poorest. I echo the vision that the Prime Minister outlined in her Munich speech: we very much want the European Union to succeed after the UK has left, because that is in all our interests, and we are seeking the broadest and deepest possible partnership with the EU.

The UK will remain one of the largest development spenders and influencers in the world, as will the European Union, and we want to retain a close partnership in this area in the future. We share the same concerns, the same values, and the same commitment to the sustainable development goals, to the Paris climate change agenda, and of course to the Addis Ababa agreement on financing for development.

In UK law, we have legally entrenched our commitment to spending 0.7% of our gross national income on international development—spending that I assure hon. Members is strictly controlled by the overseas development assistance guidelines set out by the OECD. Of course, we will continue to want to work alongside the EU on ​new and innovative approaches for financing the incredibly important agenda of moving the billions that are spent on aid to the trillions needed to move countries out of a situation where so many people live in poverty. It is worth putting on the record that the UK is one of only five EU countries that meet the target of 0.7%, which was a United Nations resolution of many years ago. We are proud of being one of those five countries. Across the EU as a whole, the average is just 0.3%.

The UK’s development priorities are closely aligned with the EU’s. As is often said, that is because we have had considerable influence in shaping them during our membership of the EU. Our approaches to addressing the root causes of migration, for example, or to meeting humanitarian needs from the outset in a way that prepares for longer-term crises, and puts in place advance readiness for long-term crisis responses, are very much based on our common experiences and joint shaping of best practice in development programming. I was pleased to hear so many hon. Members acknowledge the UK’s leadership in this area.

It is very much in the UK and the EU’s interest that we work coherently together in the future in response to specific crises overseas, and continue to help the world’s most vulnerable. Good examples are our responses in Somalia and in the Sahel—two areas where we have joint interests in addressing the causes of conflict, and the development and humanitarian needs that arise.

It will also be important to continue to support each other where we agree on policy priorities, for example on our human rights stance at the United Nations—it is absolutely essential that we remain united on that—and at a country level. Where we hold shared commitments and objectives, it is in our mutual interest to find ways to continue working together on a case-by-case basis, to ensure that we can collectively draw on expertise and lessons learned, to achieve our global development objectives and to deliver the best value for money.

We published a future partnership paper in September, which set out our desire for future co-operation with the EU, that goes well beyond the existing third-country arrangements. We look forward to formal discussions as soon as the European Commission is ready to engage.

We have committed to meeting our financial obligations already made, during the period while we are a member, and we will continue to pay into the European development fund and other EU instruments until December 2020 when the implementation period ends. As good development donors, we will continue to honour all our commitments to the world’s poorest and to shape how those funds are spent through all the means available to us.

While we have clearly signalled to the EU our openness to a future partnership on development, the extent and depth of such a partnership will be contingent upon the current discussions between the European Commission and member states about how the EU will finance its international development after 2020. Colleagues will be aware that most of the EU’s development finance instruments do not allow participation from non-member states. They may also be aware that the Cotonou agreement on development, trade and political co-operation between the EU and the 79 African, Caribbean and Pacific countries is shortly to expire and that the EU is currently rethinking how it will finance development in the future.​
A flexible, open and responsive EU is very much in everyone’s interests. For example, in deciding to open its migration trust fund to non-EU partners, the EU was able to respond swiftly and effectively to large scale crises, working with the right partners in the right places, particularly, for example, in the horn of Africa and north Africa where we have joint interests now and for the future. The EU’s humanitarian agency, ECHO, has shown flexibility to third-party participation in the Sahel, where the EU is the lead humanitarian donor and has a strong field presence. That has allowed key partners to boost the collective effort and coalesce around a flexible but co-ordinated approach in a region of strategic importance to both the EU and the UK.

We encourage the EU to design a new set of development instruments that builds on the positive examples of the last few years and creates an open and flexible enabling framework, within which it can work with its partners to tackle global challenges and build a secure, stable and prosperous world. We envisage that holding the development financing instruments open to third parties would enable the UK to work through the EU on a case-by-case basis, where we judge our development impact would be amplified. We have not yet made any decisions on that, and whether we actually pay in will be contingent on the kind of EU exit agreement that we finally secure.

While we remain a member state, we are fully engaged in discussions around the successor to the Cotonou agreement and on the shape of the future financial instruments, from a strategic perspective of what makes best development sense, and with a view to what will allow greatest flexibility for potential UK participation in the future. However, there would of course be certain expectations attached to any future partnership. If we opt into EU programmes when that is the most effective way to deliver our mutual objectives, we would expect to engage with the EU at a strategic level on programme direction and would need to be assured of adequate governance arrangements to allow us to track and account for our spending and the results we deliver. We are also clear that the UK’s world-class development sector should be eligible to implement EU programmes. We are very much fighting that corner.

In spite of all the uncertainty, one thing that is clear: the UK’s aid strategy and the Government’s manifesto commitments do not change in March 2019, and neither will our unwavering commitment to the world’s poorest nor our statutory commitment to spend 0.7% of gross national income, in line with the official development assistance rules set by the OECD. We will look to deliver our aid strategy through the best range of possible partnerships open to us. The EU and the UK have policy and programming objectives in common.

Where it makes best sense, we will continue to work closely with the EU on development and to implement the sustainable development goals side by side—the difference is that this time we will work with the EU where we choose to, and where it is in our mutual interest. We will be able to ensure better value for money through that choice and through tracking the impacts of our development spending. We will ensure that we continue to engage with the EU strategically, to direct our UK funds, but also on those global public benefits that we are both deeply committed to, such as global health security or mitigating the impacts of climate change.​
We have signalled our future direction of co-operation very clearly to our EU counterparts, and we now need them to respond in kind. We have made our position very clear. Both sides now need to work together to make that happen.

| Hansard

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