Other People’s Money

by Andrew Stuttaford

A Labour win in the upcoming British general election (or even a strong showing by the inaccurately named Liberal Democrats, something that I would not rule out) would be terrible news for the UK, but Theresa May’s Tories seem intent on proving that they are no more than the least bad option for Britain’s unfortunate voters.

Just today, for example (The Guardian reports):

Theresa May moved to quash speculation that the government might drop its pledge to spend 0.7% of national income a year on foreign aid, saying the commitment “remains and will remain”.

The prime minister said Britain should be proud of meeting the UN target, but stressed the need to spend the money more effectively, after days of speculation that she would water down the commitment.

And also today (via the BBC) there was this:

The chancellor has given a major hint that he is no fan of the 2015 Tory manifesto pledge not to raise income tax, national insurance or VAT. After the embarrassing U-turn on the attempt to raise taxes for the self-employed, Philip Hammond told me the government needed “flexibility” on taxes. The manifesto is not yet final, so no irreversible decisions have been taken.

So let’s get this straight. Cutting foreign aid is out of the question, raising taxes, not so much.

This, by the way, is (The Daily Telegraph reports) how a very small sliver of that foreign aid has been spent (there are other horror stories to pick from, believe me, but this seems, well, timely):

North Korea has received more than £4 million in foreign aid from the UK in just six years despite the country’s status as an international pariah, according to reports…Despite the country’s status as a rogue state, official statistics cited by the Daily Mail show that £740,000 was sent to North Korea by the UK to fund aid projects in 2015 with the Foreign Office reportedly committed to continuing the handouts.

The UK sent £32,000 of aid to North Korea in 2009 but spending increased under [David Cameron’s] coalition government, peaking at just over £1 million in 2013.

The cash has reportedly been spent on items such as providing English lessons for regime officials and physiotherapy equipment.

There had been concerns that “regime officials” had been mangling the phrase “sea of fire”

The Foreign Office told the Daily Mail that aid spending is not given directly to the North Korean regime and argued that the cash can be used to improve relations.

A spokesman said: “The projects we carry out in North Korea are part of our policy of critical engagement, and are used to promote British values and demonstrate to the North Korean people that engaging with the UK and the outside world is an opportunity rather than a threat.”

Critical engagement.

 

 

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