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Cameron vows to put development ‘back at heart’ of Foreign Office

PA News

Lord Cameron said the UK will continue to lead efforts to tackle food insecurity around the world as he closed the Global Food Security Summit in London.

In his first major speaking engagement since becoming Foreign Secretary, the former prime minister said he would “put development right back at the heart” of the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO).

“Food is the foundation of all aspects of development,” he said.

“Malnourished children can never fully develop their bodies and their minds.”

He described food insecurity, with a third of the world unable to afford a healthy diet, as a “silent crisis” that is growing and cannot be separated from other global crises such as the Ukraine conflict.

“I promise you this today, the UK will continue to lead efforts like this,” Lord Cameron told the gathering, which included World Health Organisation chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus and UN deputy secretary-general Amina Mohammed.

Opening the summit earlier on Monday, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said “no parent should ever have to watch their child starve”.

He also launched a White Paper setting out the Government’s long-term approach to international development more broadly up to 2030.

Speaking at Lancaster House, Mr Sunak announced a new virtual hub to link UK scientists with global research initiatives to develop climate and disease-resistant crops.

He said: “In a world of abundance, no-one should die from lack of food, and no parent should ever have to watch their child starve.”

Chairman of the board of the Children’s Investment Fund, Sir Chris Hohn, at the Global Food Security Summit (Dan Kitwood/PA
Chairman of the board of the Children’s Investment Fund, Sir Chris Hohn, at the Global Food Security Summit (Dan Kitwood/PA

On the Israel-Hamas conflict, Mr Sunak reiterated his stance that Israel has the right to defend itself, but added: “It must also act within international humanitarian law.

“The situation on the ground is truly tragic and getting worse.”

He said the UK is pushing for substantive humanitarian pauses, “because the suffering of innocent civilians must end”.

Outside the central London venue, a small group of protesters demanded the Government call for a ceasefire in Gaza.

Mr Sunak also used a separate speech at a north London college to promise tax cuts ahead of Wednesday’s autumn statement.

The UK hosted the food summit in London alongside Somalia, the United Arab Emirates, the Children’s Investment Fund Foundation and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

The White Paper fails to restore the target to spend 0.7% of national income on overseas aid, after the budget was cut to 0.5% by Mr Sunak when he was chancellor amid economic pressures in 2021.

It repeats the Government’s commitment to return to the higher target “once the fiscal situation allows”.

The paper also says the UK stopped providing direct bilateral aid to the Chinese government in 2011, after a watchdog expressed concern in the summer at a lack of transparency over how £50 million in UK aid was spent in China last year.

The Prime Minister said the paper demonstrates the UK’s new approach to development, “going further to help the poorest and support those suffering in humanitarian crises”, leading not “merely with strength, but with compassion”, and harnessing Britain’s expertise in development and science.

The White Paper’s priorities include mobilising international finance, reforming the international system, tackling climate change, harnessing innovation and putting women and girls centre stage.

International development minister Andrew Mitchell said in a written statement: “Developing countries want and need a different development offer, based on mutual respect, powered by development finance at scale, and backed by a more responsive multilateral and international system.

“This White Paper is our pledge to take a patient, partnership-based approach to development. An approach that looks ahead to the longer-term challenges we face and can readily adapt, to the ongoing global changes confronting us.”

Sarah Champion, the Labour chairwoman of the International Development Committee, said the paper “offers a welcome change of tone, with evidence-based ideas that offer hope of a real reset and refresh for the UK on the international development stage”.

But, she said, the cuts to the aid budget mean “we’re going to be running to catch up with the impact of our own aid budget cuts”.

Bond, the UK network for international development organisations, welcomed the refocus of UK aid on the lowest income countries, scaled up efforts to achieve the UN sustainable development goals, and prioritisation of the needs of women and girls.

But Bond’s director of policy and advocacy Gideon Rabinowitz said: “The notable ambitions of the White Paper require adequate resourcing and will not be realised without rapidly returning the UK aid budget to the legally mandated level of 0.7% of national income and providing additional finance to tackle climate change.”

ActionAid UK’s Hannah Bond said: “While the Government might see the White Paper as a step towards restoring its global reputation, it is clear there is a long way to go.

“As a first step, the Government must ensure that official development assistance (ODA) is spent primarily tackling poverty and inequality outside of the UK.

“In 2022, a staggering 29% of the ODA budget was spent inside the UK.

“We must see this trend reversed, otherwise women and girls in some of the world’s most fragile countries will continue to pay the price of escalating Home Office incompetence.”

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