With under a week to go until the G7 summit begins in the UK on 11 June, over a dozen Democratic members of the House of Representatives have written to President Joe Biden urging him to speak against cuts to foreign aid budgets by fellow G7 nations — specifically the UK. The move came a day before British MPs, including some 30 Conservative Party rebels, seek to reverse those cuts in what could be one of the biggest mutinies of Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s premiership. It also illustrates what may prove an ongoing tension in the special relationship between the UK and US.
The New Statesman received exclusive early sight of the letter, which was sent to the White House on 6 June. It asks the president to “urge our G7 partners to resist cuts to foreign assistance, contribute to the global response to end the Covid-19 pandemic, and build the foundation for sustained investment to mitigate its humanitarian and development impacts”. The letter names only one country, the UK, and goes into some detail about how a country that “has stood out as a foreign assistance leader in the G7” has “announced a cut of 0.2 per cent of GDP ($4.12bn), to its foreign assistance budget”.
Citing Samantha Power, administrator of the US Agency for International Development (USAid), the letter notes that “the UK aid cuts will have negative impacts in at least 11 countries and result in a $750m funding gap” and that “these cuts would result in the end to all UK development work in Latin America”. In language that speaks starkly to Britain’s role as the host of the G7 summit and will resonate with those in Westminster opposed to the cuts, it adds: “Cutting back on foreign assistance during the worst humanitarian crisis of our generation only undermines our collective global response.”
The letter’s signatories include some of the most prominent Democratic foreign policy voices in Congress. Circulated by Joaquin Castro, who chairs the House Foreign Affairs Committee’s Subcommittee on International Development, International Organisations, and Global Corporate Social Impact, its other signatories include Barbara Lee, a longstanding leading voice in foreign policy and former Congressional representative to the UN; Ro Khanna, a rising star of the party’s progressive wing; and Ilhan Omar of the “squad” of young Democratic legislators that also includes Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.
“President Biden’s first diplomatic trip abroad is to the UK, which demonstrates not only our special relationship but also our shared responsibilities,” Castro told the New Statesman through a spokesperson: “For generations, the UK has been a vital partner of the United States on international development, and during this deadly pandemic that global leadership is more important than ever.”
That such a letter was sent reflects the strength of feeling among US lawmakers over the potential consequences of British foreign aid cuts on the world’s Covid-19 recovery, which is due to be a central topic at the G7 summit in Cornwall this coming weekend. “The most advanced economies on the planet have a unique obligation to help rid the world of Covid-19, and at a minimum maintain funding for humanitarian assistance,” Castro said.
But the letter also speaks to the possible geopolitical implications of the cuts. The British government has made clear that it aims to assert itself, post-Brexit, as a Global Britain: a country that will not turn inwards, and will instead take on an ambitious foreign policy, working closely with, among others, the US to do so. As the letter shows, whether or not Britain slashes its foreign aid operations during a global humanitarian crisis will shape that reputation and with it the future of the “special relationship”. Today MPs in Westminster have a chance to push back against this. Many in Washington, DC will be watching the result closely.