Theresa May listens to Bill Gates and Ruth Davidson on overseas aid
The Scottish Tory leader is said to have been a key influence on the PM.
Theresa May has ruled out cuts to the UK overseas aid budget after warnings from Bill Gates – and from within her own party.
In recent weeks and months, the prime minister has been accused of moving rightwards with her support for grammar schools and Ukip-friendly policies on Brexit.
But the prime minister today broke with recent traditions and annoyed right wingers by moving to quash speculation that the government might drop its pledge to spend 0.7% of national income a year on foreign aid.
Quizzed on the subject during a factory visit in her constituency of Maidenhead, she said: “Let’s be clear, the 0.7% commitment remains and will remain. What we need to do, though, is to look at how that money will be spent, and make sure that we are able to spend that money in the most effective way.”
She added: “I’m very proud of the record we have, of the children around the world who are being educated as a result of what the British taxpayer is doing in terms of international aid.”
When May recently declined to guarantee the future of the £12bn annual foreign aid budget at Prime Minister’s Questions, a handful of Tory backbenchers hoped that the 0.7% commitment was about to be scrapped.
But Microsoft founder and philanthropist Bill Gates led a chorus of criticism.
He said: “The big aid givers now are the US, Britain and Germany – those are the three biggest and if those three back off, a lot of the ambitious things going on with malaria, agriculture and reproductive health simply would not get done.”
The World Bank chief, Jim Yong Kim, and the former archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, also piled pressure on the prime minister by defending the aid commitment.
However, Tory insiders have suggested that one of the key reasons why May ruled out cuts to the UK foreign aid budget was lobbying by a leading colleague, the highly-regarded Scottish Tory leader Ruth Davidson.
The well-known Conservative-supporting commentator Tim Montgomerie quoted a source saying it was “difficult to overstate Ruth's influence” on the prime minister.
Davidson has previously called for the commitment to be maintained, insisting that the 0.7% aid target takes "moral courage".
The Scottish Tory leader was quick to applaud May’s comments as was former chancellor George Osborne, who tweeted that it was the "morally right" thing to do.
But Labour responded by challenging the government to commit to not changing the definition of aid.
Kate Osamor, the shadow international development secretary, said: “The Tories have been cutting the aid budget by stealth for years, and they are now arguing over whether to go even further by abandoning the international definition of aid.
“The prime minister needs to end this speculation immediately by confirming that the Tories would continue to abide by the definition set out by the OECD. Abandoning the globally recognised standard would undermine the purpose of the 0.7% commitment and send a terrible signal to the rest of the world.”
Picture by: Leon Neal/PA Wire/PA Images.