13 June 2019

One World Conservatism

By Andrew Mitchell MP

Thanks to David Cameron and Theresa May’s commitment and leadership, international development is no longer seen as a Labour fiefdom – as it was in the days of Tony Blair’s premiership. Britain is acknowledged internationally as a leader in the field of development.

Indeed, while America is the world’s only military superpower, the UK has a good claim to be an international development superpower. When it comes to soft power, Britain has punched well above its weight. We have stood for certain values and beliefs which are respected around the world. Our commitment to human rights has shone a light in some very dark places and brought hope to oppressed groups and bullied minorities in bleak circumstances.

When David Cameron set up the National Security Council in 2010, one of the most important results was to wire together development, defence and diplomacy. This underlined that, while Britain may no longer be a major world power, our impact is substantial and positive. As a country we occupy a pivotal position as one of the permanent five at the UN. Our Queen is the head of the Commonwealth.

In or out of the EU, we are a major European power. We are the fifth largest economy in the world and the second most effective member
of NATO.

It should be a matter of pride for our generation that in 2010 Britain stood by its promise to the poorest people in the world and implemented a commitment to spend 0.7 per cent of our gross national income on international development. While Labour politicians had promised this for years, it was the Conservative Party in Government which delivered. We did so at a time of significant national austerity as budgets were brought back under control by George Osborne. And yet we declined to balance the books on the backs of the poorest people around the world. It is said that when President Obama met Theresa May for the first time as Prime Minister, his opening sentence congratulated her on becoming Prime Minister and on the UK delivering this promise.

Conservatives have not only changed the way Britain does development but have also had a significant effect on development thinking around the world. As Conservatives, we recognise two basic truths.

First, it is conflict and turmoil which, above all, condemn poor people to miserable poverty and instability. Second, economic activity – having a job – is the best way to lift yourself out of that poverty.

This, of course, is true in the richer world as well. There has been an important change in thinking within NGOs, which are often left-wing and which used to believe that the private sector was the enemy of development. They now understand that the private sector is the engine of it. After all, around 80 per cent of the jobs around the world are created by the private sector and not by governments and parastatals.

We Conservatives have moved onto ground previously colonised by Labour and the left, and rewritten the rules and secured acceptance for this rather different approach from the past. We now need to forge ahead.

We must tackle the scourges of today, where our world is disfigured by the huge discrepancies of opportunity and wealth, the full scale of which (thanks to globalisation and technology) is now known and understood in every corner of our planet. We cannot rest on our laurels and must embrace fresh thinking. This is not only necessary to renew our political appeal but to demonstrate that we have the right ideas for a new generation. It is also because the cause is vital for our own  security and for our prosperity, as well as for those who still live in wretched conditions – those who our conscience and decency demand we assist.

So here are six ideas – three short-term and three rather longer-term – for us to consider.

1. Building Up Remittancing

There is much talk about the flows of investment and aid into Africa. But not everyone understands that flows of money remitted to Africa dwarf the levels of foreign direct investment and official development assistance.

In 2017, total foreign direct investment into Africa was worth $41.7 billion (a 21 per cent decline on the year before). Official development assistance – international aid – was $52.8 billion. The equivalent figure for remittancing was in excess of $60 billion (a figure which continues to rise significantly).

People from a poor country often seek work overseas and send funds – remittances – which they save up to help their families and children back home to achieve a better standard of living.

Many of the stories of those who work overseas to help their families are profoundly moving. In some areas, there are insufficient protection mechanisms and worrying evidence of modern-day slavery. But, in general, remittancing is powerful and positive. However, these funds are often remitted through opaque and uneconomic channels because there is not enough competition between banks and other providers and unfair charges and commissions are imposed.

Action: We should look carefully at the opportunities available to families to use these funds to best advantage. Given the size of remittance flows, it should be possible to harness the sheer scale to family, local and national economic advantage.

2. Building Up Trade

Long before Britain voted to leave the EU we set up the Trade Advocacy Fund in 2011. The original idea came from Michael Howard, the former leader of the Conservative Party, as a means of tackling the ‘inequality of arms’ in trade negotiations.

All too often at the World Trade Organisation we see developing countries, devoid of resources and expertise, negotiating with teams from the first world replete with expert trade negotiators, economists, lawyers and accountants. A ‘good trade deal’ is not secured when it leaves one side hopelessly outgunned. These are, ideally, sophisticated, long-term agreements which command the enthusiasm of both sides.

Following the 2016 referendum, the Trade Advocacy Fund was renewed (TAF 2) to help developing countries participate effectively in trade and investment negotiations.

Action: Given the scale and importance of the trade negotiations which confront Britain after Brexit, the Trade Advocacy Fund should be substantially increased and re-engineered to provide significant support and engagement with Britain’s trade negotiation effort, acting as a resource dedicated to speeding up and enhancing Britain’s international trade negotiations in the years ahead.

3. Building Up International Development Co-operation with the EU Post-Brexit

Following Brexit, Britain will no longer be part of the EU international development architecture. This will mean that we will have total control of more than £1.6 billion of British taxpayers’ money which currently comes under the EU Development Programmes.

One of the key changes to British international development policy introduced in 2010 was setting up a form of ‘internal market’ for devel-
opment spending. This meant that Britain looked at the results being achieved and questioned whether we were securing the best value for money for our taxpayers through the specific mechanisms we were using to secure those results. So, for example, we looked at the costs in different geographies of educating girls and the value of the results being achieved.

Following Brexit, it may well suit us to engage with the EU’s development work. Of course, the difference will be that it is our choice; we will not be obliged, as we are today, to engage in activities where better results could be achieved in other ways. So in the new post-Brexit world, we could decide for ourselves whether we want to work with some EU funds and mechanisms, but not others, because those mechanisms will deliver the best results and best value for money for British taxpayers.

Action: We should now be looking at European development funds and other EU mechanisms to see if it will suit us to continue to engage with them. This would also ensure that the EU continues to have the benefit of British leadership on international development, which has been crucial in the extraction of better value from some aspects of EU development work.


1. Promoting a Free Media

As we know well in Britain, a free media is an essential protection from over-mighty government and the abuse of human rights. Powerful people – whether ministers, politicians or businesspeople – are inevitably constrained through the accountability that a strong, free media imposes. As a former Ugandan foreign minister put it: ‘Powerful people do not go straight because they see the light but because they feel the heat.’

It is undoubtedly true that transparency and openness – accountability – are promoted and secured, at least in part, by having a free, cynical, disrespectful and energetic independent media. Britain is a world leader in providing such entities!

Throughout the world, Britain has tried to export this knowledge and to argue about its importance in promoting good governance. In parts of the developing world, many British organisations – from the BBC Trust, Reuters and Thomson’s through to DfID – do their bit to promote this important piece of the jigsaw of good government.

Action: Why not set up a central organisation as part of Britain’s international development work to promote best practice in building an independent media? This could use the wide variety of British assets and experience to help civil society and governments around the world to understand the benefits this can bring.

2. Tackling Migration

If the international community had set out to provide the worst possible response to the Syrian crisis and the handling of displaced people, it could not have done a more ineffective job than is the case today. Eleven million people are displaced in Syria (a country of 22 million before the war started). The scale of migration from Syria is felt throughout Europe, let alone the four surrounding countries which bear the brunt of it. And those figures ignore the five million people who are internally displaced within Syria itself.

Around the world today, nearly 64 million people – a population the size of the UK – are displaced. Often living in camps, but often absorbed, too, into local communities. The generosity of countries like Jordan and Lebanon has been extraordinary. This is a problem that has to be gripped on an international basis.

It is all the more difficult at the moment because of the breakdown of the international rules-based system. It will clearly be extremely difficult to renegotiate international rules and re-engineer the ways in which we treat migrants and refugees. While there is general agreement, in principle, that we have a duty to rescue people in peril, that is very different to the way we treat economic migrants – those people who are in transit in search of a more prosperous home.

Action: In the past, Britain has shown great leadership in developing mechanisms and forging agreement across the international community on mechanisms which subsequently became the international norm. With our expertise, soft power and reach, we should take a leading role in re-negotiating the ways in which the international community address this extraordinarily complex issue.

These issues will have to be addressed in the near future. We see the effects of this failure on a daily basis from the English Channel through the Mediterranean to the Yemeni deserts. British leadership would not only serve a most important humanitarian need, it would also bring British experience, initiative and understanding to an area of public policy generally recognised as vitally important.

3. Promoting International Health and Preventing Pandemic Disease

The threat of a pandemic disease in the next few years is clear. Disease is no respecter of international borders. Bill Gates has shown that the next deadly disease that will cause a global pandemic is coming. In May last year, he revealed a scary simulation which shows how a deadly flu could kill more than 30 million people within a six-month period.

One hundred years ago, in the aftermath of the First World War, an influenza pandemic spread around the world, killing between 50 and 100 million people and infecting a third of the global population.

At the time of the Ebola virus there was much concern about whether the World Health Organisation (WHO) was fit for purpose in confronting these new international dangers. The warnings are clear. It is also outrageous that the rich world seeks to attract doctors and
medical staff from poor countries without reimbursing them.

This is a form of reverse aid from the poor world to the rich. When Britain requests and receives the support of doctors from the developing world, we should surely fund, with the assistance of our development budget, at least two replacements in the country of origin.

Action: Using the resources of our development budget and the world-leading academic and medical resources available in Britain, we
should provide an in-depth analysis and response to this looming threat and act now to ensure that the international community has both the understanding and ability to prevent any looming pandemic from gathering momentum and catching hold.


New Conservative thinking on and commitment to this vital area of public policy must be maintained. But we must also stand up for it publicly. Too often in the recent past Conservatives have done the right thing in this area by stealth. We are almost embarrassed to talk about what we are doing and why it matters so much.

We are unwilling to celebrate the fact that, thanks to the British taxpayer, a child in the poor world is vaccinated every two seconds or that a child’s life is saved every two minutes from diseases from which, thank goodness, children in this country no longer die. Senior politicians worry that if they trumpet such achievements they will suffer an allergic reaction from the Daily Mail.

Britain’s international leadership in this important area depends upon winning the acceptance of the taxpaying public for the priority which many of us are committed to maintaining. That acceptance will not be secured unless we explain why spending hard-earned taxpayers’ money in this area matters and is usually extremely effective. We need to win the argument that such spending affects our own lives in Britain for the better as well as the lives of those we are seeking to help.

Taking on the critics and those who are sceptical does work. Private polling in 2012 showed that, in spite of the deep austerity measures being introduced by the Coalition Government at the time, support for the Government’s development policies had gone up from 46 per cent to 50 per cent. However, crucially, there was a much bigger increase in support among women and among those aged under 30 – two groups of particular importance if Conservative governments are to win overall majorities.

Development works, too. Around the world, 90 per cent of girls now go to primary school. Britain’s ‘Girls Education Challenge Fund’ (set up in 2011) is well on the way to securing its target of getting one million girls into school in the most remote and difficult places where no state provision exists. One of the most effective ways of improving our world is to educate girls. For very obvious reasons, girls and women suffer hardest from deep poverty and insecurity. Following a major British-led conference in London in 2012, a significant boost was given to family planning around the world.

This is of vital importance in empowering women and giving them the opportunity to decide when or whether they have children. Of course, this is only part of the picture. But if everyone sticks to the commitment they made in 2012, the number of women living in poverty around the world who want access to contraception for family planning but do not have it will have been halved by the end of next year.

Thanks to British leadership, and in large part to British charities and NGOs, nine out of 10 people have access to clean water. A further 1.2 billion people now have access to electricity. Accountability and improved governance are on the march with more people living in a democracy and more women running for office in 2018 than ever before.

Half of all people living with HIV are getting the treatment they need and have access to anti-retrovirals. Largely thanks to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, malaria and polio may soon be eradicated. The Conservative Party has always been an international party – proud of Britain’s contribution on the international stage and committed to elevating social conditions here and abroad.

As countries lift themselves out of poverty – with our help as their partner – they will trade with us to our mutual advantage. Britain is helping build international prosperity and security. Let our Conservative Party, as so often in the past, with our ideas, energy and commitment, continue to blaze the way.

Andrew Mitchell is MP for Sutton Coldfield and a former International Development Secretary