Overseas budget as corporate welfare

The UK Government recently announced that it will reorient its development programme so that it more directly supports UK national interests. Speaking in Cape Town on 28 August 2018, Teresa May outlined a “fundamental strategic shift in how we use our aid agenda.” The UK overseas aid programme would in future be used to build the conditions for African business to prosper and UK business to trade.

The Government is looking to expand commercial links with Africa post-Brexit and Mrs May’s visit is the first by a UK prime minister in five years. The prime minister detailed the UK’s ambition to be the biggest G7 investor in Africa by 2022 and announced that the UK had signed an agreement in principle to roll over EU trading arrangements with South Africa and other southern African countries after Brexit.

The prime minister reaffirmed the UK’s commitment to spending 0.7 per cent of GDP on official development assistance, but set out a new set of priorities for that aid.  A post-Brexit UK would seek deeper economic ties with African nations and use aid to support this goal. In addition to tackling poverty, the UK aid would be used for combating terrorism, tackling illegal migration and creating opportunities for British companies.

The UK’s overseas aid commitment has been politically contentious. The Government has sought to allay criticism, and in 2015 published a revised strategy that aligned overseas development with national security and foreign policy. During her African visit, the prime minister sought to demonstrate not only the UK’s commitment to aid, but also the role it will play in promoting security and trade post-Brexit. Concern has however been expressed that business interests and development needs may not always be well aligned. The chief executive of Oxfam UK Mark Golding, while welcoming the engagement with Africa’s superpowers said  that it was “vital that UK promotes growth that supports the world’s poorest first and foremost, and that UK trade interests don’t inadvertently increase inequality.”