Britain’s Response to the Migrant Crisis – missed opportunities to promote its humanitarian brand

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  • Posted on August 9, 2016

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  • Politics

Today in Britain, much energy is spent towards debating spending cuts and how overseas development aid should be spent in these difficult times. 0.7% of Britain’s GDP is ring fenced to foreign aid, meaning it may not be subjected to cuts like in other departments. The Department for International Development (DfID) needs to be as efficient as ever with aid spending.

The size of the aid budget and its protection raises important questions about the benefits to British people of the ring fence, when austerity measures have been applied to other areas, such as the welfare budgets. It is arguable that a sizable proportion of the British population have not endorsed this government’s policy by voting massively (12.6% national vote share) for the UK Independent Party, partly based on UKIP’s manifesto promise to reduce foreign aid budget in favour of domestic priorities.

The government’s principled stance not to abandon its commitment to maintaining its obligation to some of the world’s poorest and weakest communities is to be applauded. The government is not, however, doing enough to trumpet this exemplary global leadership stance. There is reason to believe that in the long term, this commitment could create opportunities abroad and lead to reduction in the pull factors for illegal migration currently plaguing Europe’s southern borders.

In 2014, the United Kingdom spent $19.39 billion on development aid, making it the second highest contributor to development assistance globally, next only to the United States of America. Whilst it is easy to say the figure is miniscule in light of the many crises around the world. Aid is insufficient to resolve all the unexpected challenges and threats faced by developing countries. The UK’s leading role in global financial services industry, as well as, its dominant position as a sponsor of some of the most influential global NGO brands, should be exploited to make a difference by persuading other countries in Europe and beyond to enhance their contribution to international development assistance.

The UN recommends a 0.7% target for GDP spending on aid, just as NATO recommends 2% spending on defence and military. Whilst both figures represent important commitments, it does seem that the NATO recommendation is treated more seriously than that of the UN across the EU. Britain as a country is capable of fulfilling both targets simultaneously, and should lead by example in persuading other states to fulfil the 0.7% target for development assistance. The commitment to ring fence the aid budget, if properly implemented and monitored will ultimately result in achieving Britain’s strategic objective of preventing future crises abroad rather than a never ending fire fighting exercise of interventions in brewing conflicts across the world.

With regards to the migrant crises in southern Europe, Britain should make a better case by pointing to its budgetary commitments and strategic interventions abroad, as evidence of its investment in efforts to limit the push factors for illegal migration in the first place. The current public perception is that Britain is trying very hard to shy away from shouldering its share of responsibility along with its European peers. Rather, it ought to make the argument more forcefully that it is already doing more than all other EU partners by ring fencing its aid budget and spending commitments.

The Good Country index rates Britain highly when it comes to its global aid commitments. It is time the country takes up its natural leadership role to advocate for similar conduct on the part of other EU member states at every possible occasion. This approach will go a long way to remedy the brand image problem that Britain is currently suffering as a result of its reactive statements and apparently disjointed approach to resolving the migrant crises in the southern borders of Europe.

Written by Maciej Kapron
@MaciejKapron
maciej@africanstudies.org.uk


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