LONDON, Nov 25 (Reuters) - Britain's government reduced its commitment to foreign aid on Wednesday, pledging to spend 0.5% of gross domestic product on aid in 2021 as opposed to the normal 0.7% figure, finance minister Rishi Sunak said.
The move will be popular among some voters and media who argue that COVID and the resulting economic crisis mean Britain should spend less on aid, but critics including former prime ministers have said ditching the 0.7% target would be a mistake.
"During a domestic fiscal emergency, when we need to prioritise our limited resources on jobs and public services, sticking rigidly to spending 0.7% of our national income on overseas aid is difficult to justify to the British people, especially when we are seeing the highest peacetime levels of borrowing on record," Sunak said in a speech to parliament.
"I have listened with great respect to those who have argued passionately to retain this target. But at a time of unprecedented crisis government must make tough choices."
The measure is part of a one-year spending plan dominated by the huge hit to the country's economy and its public finances from the coronavirus crisis.
The 0.7% target, originally introduced by Tony Blair when he was prime minister, was a commitment made by the ruling Conservative Party in the run-up to last year's election and repeated by Prime Minister Boris Johnson.
Under normal circumstances, it would be very hard for a British government to renege on a commitment made in an election campaign manifesto, but the COVID crisis has rewritten the rules.
"We will continue to protect the world's poorest, spending the equivalent of 0.5% of our national income on overseas aid in 2021, allocating 10 billion pounds at this spending review, and our intention is to return to 0.7% when the fiscal situation allows.
Former prime ministers Blair and David Cameron had urged the government to retain the 0.7% target, saying to cut it would damage Britain's influence on the world stage. (Reporting by Estelle Shirbon and David Milliken)
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