Boris Johnson has been accused of an “unconscionable” decision of cutting aid to war-ravaged Yemen, at a bad-tempered PMQs in which the prime minister accused Keir Starmer of prioritising the Arab country over the UK.
The UK has announced it will give Yemen only around £87m in aid this year, down from £164m in 2020. The Labour leader said there was widespread outrage at the decision to cut the aid.
“The UN has said that Yemen faces the worst famine the world has seen for decades. And the secretary general said on Monday that cutting aid would be, in his words, a death sentence for the people of Yemen. How on earth can the prime minister justify selling arms to Saudi Arabia and cutting aid for people starving in Yemen?“ 他说.
Johnson blamed the pandemic for the decision to cut spending, saying it was due to the “current straitened circumstances” and added: “I think the people of this country will think that we’ve got our priorities right.”
The UK, which is a leading supplier and supporter of the Saudi- and Emirati-led coalition fighting in the Yemen war, has been directly criticised by aid agencies for cutting aid while continuing arms sales.
Britain pledged £87m on Monday – 54% of last year’s donation of £160m, and only 40% of the total funding the UK provided in 2020, something which the former international development secretary Andrew Mitchell said was “an unimaginable decision… this decision will condemn hundreds of thousands of children to starvation.”
The discomfort of Tory MPs with the decision may been a rebellion when the government brings forward planned Commons votes on the decision to cut aid spending from 0.7% 到 0.5% of gross national income.
“Britain should be a moral force for good in the world,” Starmer said. “But just as the US is stepping up the UK is stepping back. If the prime minister and chancellor are so determined to press ahead with their manifesto-breaking cuts to international aid cutting the budget to 0.5%, they should at least put that to a vote in this house.”
Johnson then hit back at Starmer for focusing his questions on the crisis. “He can’t even address a question on the issues of the hour … He could have asked anything about the coronavirus pandemic, instead he’s concentrated his questions entirely to the interests of the people of Yemen.”
Britain faced fresh calls to end unrestricted arms sales to Saudi Arabia earlier this week after the US published a CIA assessment that concluded Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman had ordered the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
The Biden administration has already said it will halt arms sales to Riyadh that could be used in the long-running war in Yemen.
Starmer urged the prime minister to take the same action, saying the UK was “increasingly isolated in its approach, especially after the investigation into Khashoggi’s murder.
“We sold £1.4bn in arms for Saudi Arabia in three months last year, including bombs and missiles that could be used in Yemen…. I have to ask, what would it take for the prime minister to suspend arms sales to Saudi Arabia?”
Johnson said the international coalition was following the UN resolutions. “We continue scrupulously to follow as a humanitarian guide, which are amongst the toughest measures anywhere in the world, in respect of all arms.”