British PM in row with minister on overseas aid

17th May 2011, Comments 0 comments

British Defence Minister Liam Fox has challenged Prime Minister David Cameron over plans to set in law a massive hike to the overseas aid budget, in a letter released Tuesday.

Fox said making a legal commitment to increase aid spending to 0.7 percent of gross national income by 2013 could tie the government's hands if it wanted to change its plans.

The pledge to ringfence the aid budget has angered some on the right of the Conservative party, of which Cameron and Fox are both members, as it coincides with huge cuts in spending at other government departments.

"I cannot support the proposal in its current form," Fox wrote in the letter to Cameron, revealed in the Times newspaper.

"The bill could limit (the government's) ability to change its mind about the pace at which it reaches the target in order to direct more resources toward other activities or programmes rather than aid."

Reports quoted sources close to Fox as insisting that he was not opposed to the 0.7 percent target itself, but how it was reflected in law.

Plans to enshrine in law the aid hike "carries more risk in terms of potential future legal challenges than... putting into statute recognition of the target and commitment to an annual report against it," he wrote.

Britain's armed forces and Fox's own department are set to shed thousands of jobs as part of cuts to public spending aimed at slashing a huge public deficit.

In their general election manifesto last year, the Conservatives committed to set in law the 0.7 percent hike to overseas aid.

It was widely seen as a move aimed at softening the negative image of the Conservatives as a party which favours the privileged.

The commitment was also in the agreement which sealed a coalition between Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats after the election.

© 2011 AFP

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