UK's aid budget: Decision time for Theresa May

UK Aid sign on a box of supplies Image copyright PA

A few weeks ago, Theresa May did something rather unusual. The prime minister went to Scotland and delivered a speech in praise of Britain's aid budget. As far as I can determine, this was a first. She praised the Department for International Development (DfID) that delivers that budget.

In an unexpected flurry of alliteration, she praised the aid money being spent in Somalia, South Sudan and Syria. She said UK aid "helps millions around the world and speaks strongly to the values that we share as a country".

But here's the thing: at no point did she mention the government's commitment - set out in law - to spend 0.7% of Britain's national income on foreign aid.

As ever, Mrs May was hedging her bets. For she is torn between competing pressures. On the one hand, she is under political pressure from supportive newspapers such as the Daily Mail to scrap the commitment. Some of her MPs are joining in, publicly attacking a £13bn budget they see as too large and too wasteful.

In a time of austerity and rising deficits, there are genuine questions about whether the aid budget should continue to be protected when others are facing cuts.

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South Sudan famine: How the UK delivers lifelines from the sky

  • 14 April 2017
  • From the section Africa
UK planes drop aid in South Sudan Image copyright Robert Oxley/ DFID
Image caption Planes drop aid sacks into famine-hit areas of South Sudan

In the dusty, baking emptiness of Leer in South Sudan, bags of British food aid fall from the sky to relieve the hunger below.

It is here in the north of the country that the United Nations has declared a famine. It is here that the fighting between government and rebel forces has driven so many into hunger and homelessness. And it is here that UK aid is being carefully targeted from the air.

Read full article South Sudan famine: How the UK delivers lifelines from the sky

Government fears trade deal 'havoc', EU diplomats say

A number of EU diplomats believe the UK government is having second thoughts about its threat to leave the bloc without a trade deal should negotiations break down, the BBC understands.

They say, in private, that the government fears the economy could be left in "havoc" if Britain left without agreeing any preferential access to EU markets.

Read full article Government fears trade deal 'havoc', EU diplomats say

Article 50: Is Whitehall ready for Brexit?

  • 27 March 2017
  • From the section Brexit
A Union flag flies near the Houses of Parliament Image copyright Getty Images

If you walk down Whitehall in central London, you cannot escape reminders of wars fought and empires run from this small district on the north bank of the Thames. There are memorials to the fallen, statues of field marshals and even a Turkish cannon captured in some long-forgotten conflict.

Yet the civil service that once gloried in its global administrative stretch is now the smallest it has been since World War Two. And with the government launching the British state on its greatest administrative, economic and legal reform since it committed the nation to total war in 1939, there is a simple question: is Whitehall up for Brexit?

Read full article Article 50: Is Whitehall ready for Brexit?

Brexit memo to Boris Johnson: Don't mention the War

John Cleese as Basil Fawlty in The Germans, am episode of Fawlty Towers
Image caption Basil Fawlty discovered that some subjects were taboo

Like some latter-day Basil Fawlty, Boris Johnson mentioned the War and didn't get away with it.

The foreign secretary urged the French president not to "administer punishment beatings" on Britain for choosing to escape the EU "rather in the manner of some World War Two movie".

Read full article Brexit memo to Boris Johnson: Don't mention the War

Hope for a fresh settlement in Cyprus

  • 8 January 2017
  • From the section Europe
Derelict airliner at Nicosia airport
Image caption Nicosia airport was abandoned in 1974

There is small corner of Europe where time has stood still since 1974. Whole neighbourhoods lie deserted. Houses crumble gently into empty streets.

Cars that were once new and shiny sit enshrouded in dust in garages. Debris litters the runway of a former international airport, the solitary abandoned passenger jet a ghostly reminder of the tourists who used to arrive here daily.

Read full article Hope for a fresh settlement in Cyprus

The problem with Boris Johnson's Saudi comments

Boris Johnson Image copyright PA
Image caption Mrs May's official spokeswoman came down on Mr Johnson like a tonne of black-edged Downing Street bricks

It is Boris Johnson's fate that even when he is right he is wrong.

Few would disagree with the foreign secretary when he says that Saudi Arabia and Iran are engaging in proxy wars in the Middle East.

Read full article The problem with Boris Johnson's Saudi comments

What the Farage ambassador row could mean for UK-US relations

  • 22 November 2016
  • From the section UK
The UK and US flags Image copyright Getty Images

At Number 3100 Massachusetts Avenue in Washington, high enough up the hill to catch a breeze in this most airless of cities, lies a small corner of a foreign field that in theory is forever England.

For it is here that one finds the British embassy and one of the finest ambassador's residences in the world.

Read full article What the Farage ambassador row could mean for UK-US relations

Defining a role for Boris

  • 17 November 2016
  • From the section Europe
British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson Image copyright AP

Boris Johnson is one of those few politicians whose notoriety gives their utterances a wider audience than Westminster.

It is why he was such an effective advocate for Leave during the referendum. And it is why the prime minister will use him to sell the Brexit deal when eventually it is struck.

Read full article Defining a role for Boris

What kind of relationship will Trump have with the UK?

  • 15 November 2016
  • From the section World
Donald Trump looks to the flag after he addressed supporters Image copyright Getty Images

In the arc of history, Britain has rarely flourished when it has had to choose between Europe and the United States.

The greatest foreign policy disasters have tended to come when the UK has either ignored America - such as when it joined France in invading Suez - or when it has followed the US too blindly, as in the invasion of Iraq, against the warnings of many in Europe.

Read full article What kind of relationship will Trump have with the UK?