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Thank you very much indeed, and thank you Ryan. I think I’m a patron of Bright Blue, I certainly used to be. It’s great to see all the things you’re doing and making a contribution to the type of conservatism which you set out at the beginning of your remarks. 

It’s also great to be here with Five Talents who I know do brilliant work, from as far afield as Bolivia and Myanmar, but principally in East Africa, and you set out very clearly the brilliant contribution that Five Talents is making.

I’m not intending tonight, in spite of suggestions to the contrary, to make a very controversial or specific speech. Not least because the Prime Minister has made a great speech today about the very dangerous world in which we live, and of course last week the Foreign Secretary made not one but two great speeches on the sweep of foreign affairs.

I want to try and complement what they have said tonight with a few reflections, as you set out, on the last 19 years since I first got involved in international development prior to us coming into government in 2010.

Between 2010 and 2015, we had the luxury of mainly sticking with the post which David Cameron gave us when he became Leader of the Opposition, and of being able to develop the policy area for which we were responsible. In my case, that was international development, and between 2005 and 2010 we tried to work out what a centre-right development policy looked like. 

We were very respectful of what Gordon Brown and what Tony Blair had done on development. We like to refer to development policy as a British policy – not Labour or Conservative – and we were very determined to build on the strong base that Tony Blair and Gordon Brown and the Labour Party had given us.

We were also conscious – something I remind my colleagues about – that in opposition you can do nothing, you can only say and prepare yourself for the time when you may have the privilege of introducing policies in government. With this centre-right approach, we determined that it had a number of key characteristics. 

The first was that development was about building prosperity, and that it was about growth and not charity. I used to say to the NGO sector that all too often they believe that the private sector was the enemy of development. We believe that the private sector was the engine of development.

One of the most important things that we did was to reform CDC: the British Government’s development finance institution set up in 1947, now called BII. It’s very important to understand why CDC makes such a contribution, and why we spent such a lot of time on seeking to reform it.

CDC employs approximately, through its investments, a million people in the poorest parts of the world. That’s food on a million tables potentially. Over the last three years, it has paid more than $4 billion dollars of tax into national exchequers. Those exchequers may not always spend that money well, but we all know that the golden thread of development is that you need to have strong state institutions so that they can provide basic service for their citizens, whether it’s health or education, and that starts with public finance. So, that is the great contribution that CDC, now BII, makes, and I will have something more to say about that a little later on.

We also prioritised microfinance, but we understood that in building prosperity; economic success, having the ability to get a job, in the rich world and in the poor world, helps you to elevate your social and economic condition. 

Just as building prosperity was key to all of this, tackling conflict was key as well. Stopping conflict starting, once it’s started stopping it, and once it’s over reconciling people, which was the reason I first went to Rwanda: to see how a society atomized by conflict and genocide could pick itself up and build itself up again. 

Conflict is development in reverse, and remember that disorder as we see it all the way across that belt of North Africa is the breeding ground for terrorism as people fall prey to the terrorist recruiter. They understand that in a globalised world, not very far away from them, are people living in very, very different circumstances. 

Building prosperity and tackling conflict – they were the hallmarks of the opposition’s green paper upon which we came into government in 2010. We also wanted to embed the centrality of women and girls in all development policy. I do not believe you can understand development unless you see it through the eyes of girls and women. We thought that above all reflected on three specific areas.

First of all on the area of education. Educating girls is how you change the world, in the opinion of many of us. We set up the Girls Education Challenge fund, which has run until this year, designed to get a million girls into school and got 1.6 million girls into school in the most difficult parts of the world, where there were no alternative structures.

It’s about family planning – we had the big summit in 2012. It’s saying that girls and women should have the right to decide for themselves whether and when they have children. It’s about 

gender-based violence and tackling it. Embedding the centrality of the rights and actions of girls and women in development we recognized was extremely important.

We reviewed spending through the Multilateral Aid Review. We said to the Multilateral Aid Review’s systems – 43 agencies within it, some of which had never been properly reviewed since they were set up in the early 50s – that we will look at whether you are representing value for money for our taxpayers and we will see also whether you are pursuing aims that Britain thinks is right.

We did the same thing with the Bilateral Aid Review, reducing the number of programs from 44 down to 26. We also were determined that DFID should become a proper Department of State for development in the developing world. I think we did a lot of good things to fashion DFID into a stronger Department of State than when we found it.

We introduced The Independent Commission on Aid Impact, the taxpayers watchdog, to ensure that there is value for money. Reporting not to ministers but to the Select Committee in the House of Commons. Reporting not to the executive but to the legislature, so that ministers who can sometimes sweep inconvenient truths under the carpet could not do so in respect of development. We knew we had to do that because you could not then increase spending to 0.7% of GNI without having that degree of taxpayer accountability.

I always used to say to the Daily Mail when they attacked development spending: if you think there is something wrong with it, go to the ICAI because the ICAI is the fearless champion of value for money.

We introduced, as I say, the 0.7%, I have never been so proud in all my political life as being the Development Secretary on the day that, in spite of all the austerity and difficulties that were going on, George Osborne, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, announced that Britain would stand by its commitments to the poorest people in the world and introduce the promise that we had made.

I’m now going to roll on to when I returned to government in 2022, and the Prime Minister very generously invited me back and said see what you can do to improve Britain’s profile on development, and that is what I try to do.

Although I’m about to present a challenging and pessimistic version of what is transpiring, I want to refer you to an article in the Financial Times just a week or so ago by Martin Wolf in which he shows how far we have gotten. Consider these statistics: in 1820, 80% of all our fellow human beings were living on the margins of subsistence. In 2018, that 80% figure had been reduced to 10% and this is a different population over that period of time from 1 billion people to 7.7 billion. 

Even in 1970, ladies and gentlemen, 50% of our fellow citizens were living in extreme poverty. Why has this changed? Above all, I submit it is because of globalisation and it is because of the external assistance provided by the international system and in particular the multilateral development banks.

From 1990 to 2020, we saw the fastest alleviation of poverty this world has ever seen. But since 2020, we have seen the collapse of the international rules-based system. We’ve had COVID-19, but above all we’ve had Russia invading its neighbour – a sovereign state brutalising and murdering its citizens, bombing and destroying its infrastructure. A member of the permanent five, behaving in a way that we all thought had been consigned to the history books in the last century.

We have seen spikes in energy and food pricing. We’ve seen inflation. We’ve seen uncertainty in commodity prices – all of these things directly affect the poorest countries in the world. Remember where the international rules-based system came from: in 1945 at the end of the war, those who were then – if I may use a cricketing metaphor – at the crease of international affairs had seen their father’s generations slaughtered in the First World War. They had seen Europe and other parts of the world destroyed in the Second World War. They were determined that this massive act of narrow nationalism should not be allowed to happen again. 

From there, the international rules-based system was formed. Alas, now overwhelmingly massacred by narrow nationalism. At a time when we really need international cooperation to tackle the major problems that we see in our world today, we live in an era of that narrow nationalism 

What are these things that we really need to cooperate on in development terms through the international national system? I’ll just mention three of them. 

The first obviously is climate change. Britain has been doing its stuff, the Prime Minister announced that we would give the biggest replenishment ever of $2 billion dollars to the green climate fund, and we have taken over the co-chair of that. Climate change is the existential threat of our time, and although we are doing much to help tackle that we are not doing enough.

Secondly, pandemics. We’ve all seen what happened in COVID: the negotiations on the pandemic are now at a critical stage and remember we know that none of us are safe until all of us are safe.

Thirdly, on the issue of migration one of the greatest challenges of our time, I would argue, is that the whole UK development budget is spent in our national interest building safer and more

prosperous societies over there so people don’t feel they have to flee from where they were born, where their community is, to safer countries. Building safer societies is at the heart of British development policy.

Also, the prosperity agenda to which I referred has been seriously damaged. It’s been much more difficult for countries now to mobilise resources, and in particular to mobilise domestic resources. More than a third of economies in the developing world are in the informal sector. 

There are tremendous shortages of foreign exchange. There’s a dependency on foreign lending. We have seen a rise in debt distress and the G20 common framework mechanism is not yet working as well as we would wish. And corruption, the cancer in development, continues to destroy so many initiatives.

So, those are the problems, and what we have tried to do in the one and a half years since I came back into government is: firstly, trying to make the merger work to try and ensure that there is a structure within the British Government, within the Foreign Office which can deliver global public goods into the 2030s. We have a second permanent secretary – a senior official now – who is responsible for international development within the Foreign Office. 

In government, the Development Minister sits as part of the Cabinet, has the governorships of the multilateral development banks, and is on the MSC. We have set up the Star Chamber, co-chaired by the Chief Secretary to the Treasury and the Development Minister to try to ratchet up the quality of aid and ensure that taxpayers money is really well spent.

We have set up UKDev, the platform between civil society and the government to try to work more seamlessly on demonstrating why this works, why international development, why this budget is so important and it is one of the most exciting changes that we have made. We have published a white paper, one designed to act as a roadmap for how we get the SDGs back on track by 2030 – at this halfway point they are way off track – and how also we ratchet in money into climate finance and turn, in the words of Mia Mottley and the Bridgetown Agenda, “billions into trillions”.

The most important aspect of the white paper is that it is effectively an all-party white paper. In the unlikely event later this year that there is a change of government, an incoming government will be able to see it as a rock on which the continuation of development policy could be pursued.

It is trying in the white paper above all on the issue of climate finance to answer the question: how do you use statist money – that is money from the DFIs and from the multilateral development banks whose assets and balance sheets we are sweating in every way we can – how do you use that status money in connection with the private sector and above all with pension funds, of which we know there are something like $60 trillion dollars? How do you use that status money to de-risk and augment what the private sector can do so that people are willing to invest, because they understand both the risk and also the rate of return.

 The white paper champions R&D and science, and quite rightly so when you visit as I did the Jenner Institute in Oxford and see the development work going into these wonderful vaccines, most recently malaria, you can only be lost in wonder and delight at what they are achieving.

On BII, a very important pledge in the white paper, BII will increase from 37% of their investment, which the effect of which I described earlier – from 37% to 50% what they invest

in poor countries. That may not sound very much, but it is a huge challenge and they are absolutely intent on delivering it. Last November we held a food summit to show how we can do development differently, and we have settled the position on the 0.7% returning to 0.5% when the two key tests are satisfied, something the government is committed to and as far as I can see the position of the Labour opposition is precisely the same.

Because of the shortage of money we have invented a number of multipliers. Those multipliers do not score as ODA so they’re not part of the 0.7%, but they have a dramatic impact on the amount of money that goes into the system.

Britain has issued £6 billion pounds of guarantees, particularly to the World Bank and the African Development Bank – that’s £6 billion pounds which do not score as ODA. We have used insurance to ratchet money in and insurance is now paying out both in weather-damaged parts of Africa as well as in the Caribbean.

We are doing co-financing with a number of countries – that means we share

similar ideas about where we want to work and similar ideas about the themes we want to pursue. We are effectively able to give the British taxpayer two for one, it’s a BOGOF arrangement, buy one get one free, and it is a key multiplier. Don’t forget either that the announcement by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Jeremy Hunt last year about the use of SDRs – Britain pledged $5.6 billion dollars worth of SDRs to pro-poor endeavours by the IMF.

I want to end my remarks by noting that in this very fractured world – which I described where the international rules-based system has been under such a great challenge, where we have the crisis in Ukraine and the crisis in Gaza – there is always a danger that humanitarian need elsewhere could be neglected. That is why Britain has announced that it will put £1 billion pounds on the table this financial year to pursue our humanitarian obligations and duties around the world, and also in the white paper, has invented the Resilience and Adaptation Fund – the ‘RAF’ – which will mean that wherever there is a humanitarian disaster we are able to put additional money -15% of whatever we are spending – on that humanitarian work on the table to build in resilience so that the next time these crises happen, and we know alas that they will, the population affected by them will have some resilience and some resistance. 

The best example I can give you is that there have been areas of drought where we’ve had to move water by lorry, but if we’re able to use this new fund to build methods of water retention, reservoiring, irrigation and so forth, we can try and ensure that the next time the crisis hits it isn’t so bad.

These marked crises include in Sudan, where a huge number of the population in this vast country is displaced, where humanitarian need is extraordinary and where famine conditions are growing. I was able to see for myself the people fleeing across the border from Sudan into Chad just a few weeks ago, and meet some of these people and hear how a combination of climate change and conflict had driven them only in the clothes they were wearing, across the border to seek sanctuary in Chad. 

Also in Ethiopia, where there are signs of famine conditions in parts of Ethiopia we have tried to move preemptively to stop the dreadful prospect of that which happened 40 years ago when Bob Geldof tweaked the conscience of the world. We’ve tried to move there to forestall this by a major pledging conference in Geneva just a fortnight ago, co-chaired by Britain and Ethiopia and the UN system which raised £610 million to try and stave off these conditions in Ethiopia.

We live at a time of great challenge, great difficulty, very different, I submit, from the position in 2010 when this Government came to power. 

The challenges are immense. We are meeting as many as we can. We know what needs to be done. There’s a degree of party unity going forward which I hope will ensure that Britain is able to reassert itself as a major friend of the dispossessed: a country that really cares about these colossal discrepancies of wealth and opportunity which disfigure our world.

I hope that all of you will join in this collective effort by Britain to make sure that we are there at the crease, scoring runs – if I may return to my cricketing metaphor – in this vital area of British public interest.

Thank you very much.


The keynote speech was followed by a Q&A session.

The Rt Hon. Andrew Mitchell MP was the Deputy Foreign Secretary.