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Monday, September 25, 2023

What could a Liz Truss premiership mean for British aid to countries like The Gambia?


Former UK Foreign Secretary Liz Truss is expected to be called by the British head of state, Queen Elizabeth, to her summer residence in Balmoral Castle and named prime minister today. She will be the third woman to hold the position after Margaret Thatcher from 1979 to 1990 and Theresa May from 2016 to 2019. She’s likely to be in office for at least until a general election is called in 2025.

What kind of a prime minister will she be? Her anticipated appointment has reportedly triggered concern and apprehension among officials in the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office, which she has led since September 2021, and across the wider development sector in the UK.

The new prime minister had publicly stated that aid budget should be used to challenge “geopolitical efforts by malign actors”. During her tenure as foreign secretary, she has paid relatively little attention to development, climate or lower-income countries like The Gambia beyond overseeing the launch of British International Investment, and later, the international development strategy.

Sarah Champion, a member of the British Parliament chairwoman of the International Development Committee, which scrutinises government development policy, stated: “Under her watch there was a dramatic shift from development aid to economic development and it really calls into question going forward whether or not we do have a focus on poverty reduction or whether it’s more about trade deals, partnerships, and what’s in the UK’s interests, and that does concern me.”

The political environment surrounding the aid budget is likely to become tenser as the UK, like the rest of Europe, enters a domestic economic crisis, with inflation and gas prices forecast to soar this winter. At the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, the Department for International Development was folded into the Foreign & Commonwealth Office, and the aid budget was cut from 0.7% to 0.5% of gross national income, which then Chancellor Rishi Sunak blamed on the “domestic fiscal emergency.”

Given her record at the Foreign Office, it is reasonable to argue that countries like The Gambia which are eager for British development aid should not expect much with her advent as prime minister. With the UK’s development reputation worsened in recent years, and global crises showing no sign of abating, it is perhaps a very good idea that we start to internalise our problems and look for homegrown solutions as suggested by the Central Bank of The Gambia governor at his recent Monetary Policy Committee briefing in Banjul.

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