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Brexit will be good for the world

British aid spending can now be more efficient

One can scarcely claim that Brexit has had that “with one bound he was free” thrill associated with comic books in the last century. Then again, when a prisoner is released, it is widely understood that the process can be a daunting one. Rather than euphoria at gaining liberty, the challenge could more plausibly give rise to nervousness blinking in the bright sunshine. How will I be able to cope with managing my own affairs after years of being institutionalised? Will my old friends help me get back on my feet?

Seven years after the referendum, the restoration of our self-government has been gradual. This has meant that progress has been unexciting — though that is not the same as it being unimportant. Brexiteers have been vocal about the missed opportunities. The frustrations have been exacerbated by the feeble and apologetic tone from Ministers.

It is time to rebalance the narrative; the glass is half full

Whilst Remainers are always on the qui vive to blame Brexit for our woes, the Brexiteers often sound equally sullen — lamenting the betrayals of Northern Ireland, the fishing industry and others. It is time to rebalance the narrative, to note that the glass is half full. Lord Lilley wrote in the Daily Telegraph recently to highlight some important benefits of our independence compared to the constraints of still being in the EU.

There is the financial saving: “As members we would have had to contribute our 14 per cent share of the €800 billion EU Covid Recovery Fund and got only a fraction of that back.” There was our support for Ukraine in the crucial period before Russia invaded, Britain no longer being bound by the EU “doctrine of sincere cooperation”. Then there was the vaccine:

Brexit has saved hundreds, maybe thousands, of lives. Without Brexit, we would never have developed, approved or rolled out vaccines so fast. Every day counted, since hundreds of people were dying daily. The claim that had we remained in the EU we could theoretically have opted out of the EU of its Covid policies is inane. No member state did so. And EU supporters across parties opposed leaving the EU Medicines Agency and urged joining the EU vaccine procurement programme.

Another item I would add where Brexit has saved a lot of lives is in the more effective use of our Overseas Aid budget. Chris Mullin, the former Labour MP, was an International Development Minister. In his diaries, he says of Clare Short, when she was International Development Secretary:

She was very critical of the EU, through which we are obliged to spend a third of our aid budget. “Very inefficient. Even when committed the money can’t be spent and much of what is spent goes on political gestures rather than help to the poorest.”

One of his Conservative successors Desmond Swayne adds:

As a DFID Minister it was always depressing to see so much of our aid budget transferred to unaccountable EU institutions to run programmes over which we had no control and whose results were rarely observable and more rarely audited.

The debate on aid has become focused on how much we should spend rather than a rigorous consideration of how effective that spending is. Some argue that higher spending on Aid should be a goal in itself — 0.7 per cent of GDP rather than 0.5 per cent. Would they argue that spending more money is in itself an achievement in any other area?

Then there are plenty who argue that Aid spending should cease altogether. They make a powerful case. The World Bank estimates that 8.4 per cent of the global population (648 million people) lived in extreme poverty in 2019, prior to the start of the pandemic. That threshold is below US $2.15 (2017 purchasing power parity) per person, per day. In 1990 it was 1.9 billion people, over 35 per cent. That has been an extraordinary reduction in poverty. Does anyone really believe that Overseas Aid has anything much to do with it? It is a triumph of free trade, property rights and commercial investment. It is the result of countries turning away from socialism and embracing capitalism.

Aid has helped to sustain corrupt and despotic Governments

Zambian economist Dambisa Moyo is amongst those who have argued that Aid has been not merely wasted but has done more harm than good. It helps to sustain corrupt and despotic Governments.

Within the aid budget, though, there are considerable variations. “Budget support” — or just handing over money to foreign governments to spend how they like — has not proved beneficial. The same applies to surrendering control to multilateral organisations (the United Nations as well as the EU). When it comes to projects under our direct control, there is at least some hope that the money will be spent as intended.

It is also entirely reasonable to consider our national interests when it comes to aid spending as well as poverty reduction. Stable governments are less likely to provide a safe haven for terrorists.

A report by Brian Monteith for Global Europe has highlighted some of the failings of aid spending via the EU. For a start, the administration costs at 5.4 per cent for the European Commission are amongst the highest of international development institutions. The UK’s is 0.9 per cent.

Monteith adds:

Burkina Faso, Central African Republic, Cote d’Ivoire, Guinea Bissau, Kyrgyzstan, Mauritania, Niger, Togo and other countries have all received direct budget support from the EU despite their records for slavery, torture, and corruption. Only 27 per cent of EU aid is spent in low income countries, whilst 43 per cent of EU aid is spent in Upper Middle-Income countries, with Turkey as the largest recipient.

Then there is the damage to developing countries of the EU protectionist trade policies: “The efficacy of EU development aid cannot be seen in isolation but must be considered together with the impact of EU trade policies, the damaging results of which EU Aid is often used to alleviate.”

We used to contribute around £2 billion a year of our aid spending via the EU — when you include payments to the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development. It hasn’t yet ceased entirely. There are seven-year programmes that are winding down. “The UK’s share of the EU ODA budget in 2021 was £684 million compared to £1,149 million in 2020,” reports the Foreign Office. It adds that it “will continue on a declining scale until approximately 2029”.

Brexit will doubtless save many lives in developing countries by allowing greater free trade and cutting red tape on areas of innovation such as the gene-editing of crops. Allowing a portion of our Aid spending to be more effectively spent than it otherwise would have been may be a modest contribution. Amidst the constant pious droning of Remainers, though, it might just be worth pointing to them that Brexit is helping the poorest on the planet.

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