Challenges lie ahead for UK's new pro-Brexit aid minister

With climate change, conflict and disease all major concerns, how will Britain's international aid policy change under Priti Patel?

In his final days as prime minister, David Cameron hailed Britain’s 12 billion pound ($16 billion) foreign aid budget as one of his greatest achievements.

Britain last year enshrined in law its commitment to spend 0.7 per cent of its national income on aid every year, making it the first major industrialised nation to do so.

But with climate change, conflict and disease all major concerns, how will Britain’s international aid policy change under new Prime Minister Theresa May and her chosen international development secretary, Priti Patel?

Patel, who campaigned for Britain to leave the European Union, takes office at a time when the fall in the value of the pound, following the referendum, is predicted to slash the spending power of British aid by roughly $1.9 billion, according to the Overseas Development Institute.

As she takes command of the international aid purse strings, here is some reaction from British charities and aid experts:

Kevin Waitkins, executive director, Overseas Development Institute

“Theresa May has made a bold commitment to fight what she described as the ‘burning injustice’ experienced by disadvantaged people in the UK. (Her) incoming secretary of state has a unique opportunity to take that fight to the world stage. The Department for International Development (DfID) is a global leader in combating poverty, expanding opportunity and tackling inequalities linked to wealth and gender. We look forward to working with Priti Patel in ensuring that the UK remains an outward looking country that works for fairness at home and abroad.”

Vickie Hawkins, executive director, Medecins Sans Frontieres UK

“I would expect the incoming DfID secretary of state to champion the responsibilities of the UK, and indeed governments around the world, to respect the lives of civilians and the protection of medical facilities dedicated to providing them with essential healthcare. I also hope that she will prioritise the resources and capacity of their department to ensuring an appropriate response to humanitarian crisis and emergencies.”

Paul Cook, advocacy director, Tearfund

“Priti Patel’s in-tray will be heaving, but high on the to-do list must be helping developing nations respond to the impact of climate change. The poor communities Tearfund is working with around the world are experiencing more extreme storms, flooding, erratic seasons and growing deserts, all of which are devastating to every aspect of their lives. At a time when the world will be watching to see whether (Britain) turns inwards, it is essential the government remains strong and committed to the fight against global poverty.”

Mark Goldring, chief executive, Oxfam GB

“I warmly welcome Priti Patel’s appointment to lead Britain’s vital work fighting extreme poverty worldwide. We look forward to working with her to extend Britain’s proud record helping millions of people who are trapped in poverty or hit by disasters or conflicts and who get the chance of a better life thanks to our aid.”

This story is published with permission from Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women’s rights, corruption and climate change. Visit news.trust.org.

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