Advice for new UK minister from aid experts? Crises, not Brexit

by Lee Mannion | @leemannion | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Friday, 10 November 2017 12:09 GMT

Britain's Secretary of State for International Development Penny Mordaunt leaves 10 Downing Street, London, Britain, November 9, 2017. REUTERS/Mary Turner

Image Caption and Rights Information
Penny Mordaunt was appointed Secretary of State for International Development after the resignation of Priti Patel

By Lee Mannion

LONDON, Nov 10 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Britain's new aid minister met with plenty of advice from humanitarian experts as she begins her new job - don't get swamped by Brexit, do get to grips with Yemen and stick close to the European Union.

Penny Mordaunt, 44, who has previously held junior ministerial roles, was appointed Secretary of State for International Development on Thursday after the resignation of Priti Patel over undisclosed meetings with Israeli officials.

Mordaunt, a stanch Brexit supporter like her predecessor Patel, is a volunteer reservist for the Royal Navy who has worked in hospitals and orphanages in Romania and last year appeared on the diving reality television gameshow Splash.

Development experts said it was vital that party politicking over Britain's departure from the EU did not get in the way of Mordaunt's job - to lead Britain's work in helping the world's poorest with a budget of roughly 11 billion pounds ($14.5 billion).

"Don't play politics with DFID (Britain's Department For International Development) - (its) work is too important and should be beyond that," Alex Thier, head of the Overseas Development Institute, said before Mourdant's appointment.

Although Prime Minister Theresa May and her cabinet are united in their intention to take Britain out of the EU, her ministerial team is seen as a delicate balancing act between members of parliament identified as 'remainers' or 'leavers'.

"Genuine development objectives will take second place, and increasingly so if the Brexit process continues to make so little progress," Jeff Crisp of the international affairs think tank Chatham House told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by email.

Britain should continue to work closely with the EU post-Brexit, given that a tenth of its aid currently spent in partnership with European nations, development experts said.

Oxfam called for British government policy concerning aid and conflict to be more consistent across various departments.

"DFID is doing what it can to help but the UK is still signing export licences to allow British arms manufacturers to sell the Saudis the same bombs that are falling on the Yemeni population," said Katy Chakrabortty, a policy adviser at Oxfam.

The U.N. aid chief Mark Lowcock said on Wednesday that Yemen will face the worst famine in decades following the Saudi-led military coalition's closure of all border access to the nation.

The plight of refugees worldwide must also be a priority for Mourdant - with about 66 million people forcibly displaced worldwide - Oxfam said.

"Aid can play a massive role in trying to protect these people," said Chakrabortty.

($1 = 0.7601 pounds) (Reporting by Lee Mannion @leemannion, Editing by Kieran Guilbert, Lyndsay Griffiths; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights, climate change and resilience. Visit http://news.trust.org)

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.