Boris Johnson facing backlash over drastic foreign aid budget cut to war-torn Yemen

Joe Murphy
·3 min read
<p>The Prime Minister is preparing to provoke a storm over the move</p> (Getty Images)

The Prime Minister is preparing to provoke a storm over the move

(Getty Images)

Boris Johnson is preparing to provoke a storm of protest by slashing in half the aid budget to war-torn Yemen, the Evening Standard has learned.

A cutback from £187 million this year to around £90 million is set to be announced at a United Nations pledging conference by Foreign Office Minister James Cleverly.

Senior Conservative MPs said a cut on such a scale could deepen the world’s gravest humanitarian catastrophe and could bolster terrorist group Al Qaeda which is based there.

Andrew Mitchell, the former Tory Chief Whip, said MPs would be raising questions with Foreign Office ministers tomorrow.

“The Yemen cut is unspeakable, incomprehensible and probably contrary to the will of Parliament,” he said.

“This means essentially that four million people, mainly children, will be continuing the slow agonising and obscene process of starving to death.”

Tobias Ellwood, who chairs the influential Commons Defence Committee, said: “It is not just the largest humanitarian challenge in the world, it is also the fact that Al Qaeda is taking full advantage of the absence of any government. It is an unwise step. This is our first big test with an invigorated White House wanting to rejuvenate western resolve. It is not the message we should be sending.”

Around 60 senior Conservatives have already signalled unease about the Government’s attempts to cull the annual budget for aid spending, which was written in law by David Cameron’s government at a target level of 0.7 per cent of GDP.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak last year announced he intends to cut £4 billion from the target, which comes on top of a reduction of around £2.9 billion due to the Covid-19 pandemic depressing GDP.

Mr Mitchell said a cut of such magnitude in Yemen would be harmful to British interests, firstly because Britain currently “holds the pen” on Yemen for the United Nations security council: “We are supposed to set an example,” he said. Britain’s support for the Saudi campaign in the Yemen made it “complicit” in the suffering of people affected and there was “no legal cover” for reducing aid spending below the lawful target.

The Government is likely to face a Commons vote on the aid cuts and Mr Mitchell said it “may be very well not be able to win”. The 0.7 per cent target was upheld in the Conservative manifesto at the 2019 election.

Sir Mark Lowcock, the UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, recently warned that the humanitarian situation in the Yemen “is about to fall off a cliff”. He has called for $3.85 billion in aid, saying Yemen is heading for “the worst famine the world has seen for decades”.

“Without that funding, a lot more people will die, there could be catastrophic prospects unleashed in the country,” he warned.

US President Joe Biden has launched a new Yemen policy aimed at ending the six-year war.

The Foreign Office declined to comment ahead of the announcement, due late this afternoon.

Britain has been the biggest giver of aid to the crisis, helping at least 500,000 vulnerable people buy food and essentials each month, treating 55,000 children for malnutrition and providing a million people with better water and sanitation

Over six million people in Yemen will also benefit from a £119 million UK package to tackle the combined threat of coronavirus and famines.

But a UN appeal for $3.4 billion in international donations last year resulted in only $1.8 billion being given.

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