Thursday, April 14, 2016

Foreign Aid and Immigration

Some of Britain's newspapers have been reacting with, in their own word, "outrage" to the news that in terms of absolute amount of money given Britain is second only to the USA as providing more aid to poorer countries, and in terms of payment per head pays even more than the USA. Our aid programme is on any measure among the most generous in the world.

It is not quite clear whether this outrage is because  Britain has honoured a commitment - to spend 0.7% of GDP on aid - which governments of every political colour have been signed up to for many years and which was a clear and explicit promise in the 2010 Conservative manifesto, or because so many other countries have failed to keep an identical commitment.

But my impression is that the Conservatives are implicitly being criticised for keeping their promises and honouring Britain's commitments.

Obviously there will be examples of waste and corruption in the Foreign Aid budget as there are in every other government activity - I don't think there will be anyone who would disagree that such instances should be identified and corrected, with the money redirected to more deserving causes. Nor do I think many people would argue against a redirection of aid from those countries which can afford space programmes and nuclear weapons tests to those which are in desperate straits.

Many people will argue that it is the moral duty of one of the richest countries in the world to help those who are much less fortunate. Others will say that "charity begins at home" and point to those in need right here.

Without decrying the moral arguments I want to make a ruthlessly pragmatic and practical one based firmly in the imperfect world we are living in - and no, I'm not talking about the influence we can gain through aid or the fact that some of it comes back to British businesses,

Start with this point which is a direct challenge to the people who don't approve of the money Britain spends on foreign aid.

I believe that those who are most concerned that Britain is spending too much on foreign aid correspond very closely indeed with those who are concerned about the level of immigration.

I would put to them this question

What do you think will happen to the number of economic migrants, or outright refugees, coming to Europe and Britain from the poorest and most troubled countries of the world if those countries fail to develop, or worse, become failed states?

The answer is extremely obvious. If we let those countries go down the plug-hole, there will be millions more desperate migrants from those countries coming to nations like this one: migrants who we do not have the capability to easily absorb.

On both selfish and compassionate grounds, it is in everyone's interests to stop that happening. On compassionate grounds because there will be fewer men, women and children dying in transit as they suffocate in the backs of lorries or drown because people-smugglers have sold them places on unsafe boats and because many of those people will be far better off if we can help ensure they have opportunities to improve their lives in their own countries.

And on selfish grounds because the rate at which people are coming to Britain is already above the level which we can sustainably absorb in the long term while protecting the civilised and tolerant society which is one of the things which made people want to come here. And the first to suffer if we get this wrong and lose social cohesion will the most vulnerable elements in society including  minority communities.

That's why trying to give aid to those countries who most need it is not only the right thing to do, but the wise thing to do.

Even if it were not the right thing to do for moral and altruistic reasons, we need to help those nations which are in most danger of becoming failed states to provide more security and opportunity for their people in our own selfish interests.

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