Brexit: Impact on development cooperation

At the beginning of this year, the transitional arrangements for the United Kingdom's exit from the EU expired. Brexit has had an impact on a wide variety of areas of the European Union's activities, which are gradually becoming visible. There are obvious and immediate effects, such as visa-free travel or customs duties, which are currently making headlines, especially with regard to the loss of sales by British fishermen, but also those whose extent is still difficult to foresee and assess. This also includes the issue of development cooperation.

The Trade and Cooperation Agreement between the European Union and the United Kingdom, which entered into force provisionally on 01 January 2021 and still requires the approval of the European Parliament, contains no references to development cooperation or humanitarian aid. Only the sustainable development goals are mentioned in passing. With the UK's withdrawal, not only will the total EU budget be reduced, but there will also be less money available for development cooperation and humanitarian aid. It cannot be assumed that there will be closer cooperation on development or humanitarian measures in the foreseeable future. The general framework for UK participation in EU programmes set out in the agreement does not give the UK a say. Similarly, the recently negotiated new Development Cooperation and Neighbourhood Assistance Instrument does not include concrete provisions to facilitate early cooperation.

Drastic cuts in development cooperation

The nationalist tendencies in the UK – one of the reasons for the Brexit – have also led to the Johnson government recently announcing drastic cuts to the development budget from 0.7 % to 0.5 % of the national budget. 

Spending at least 0.7 % of gross national income is the target set by the United Nations. By comparison, spending in Germany was 0.6 % in 2019, while the EU average was just 0.46 %. Despite this worrying development, the UK remains an important player in development cooperation and humanitarian aid, also because of its high (project) experience. This was pointed out by the European Parliament's Development Committee last week. As part of the consultation procedure on the ratification of the Trade and Cooperation Agreement, a short letter was drafted via the Committee on Development and addressed to the jointly responsible Trade and Foreign Affairs Committee. In it, we call for the UK to help minimise the negative impact of Brexit on developing countries and maintain its commitment to being at the forefront of development and humanitarian assistance. We equally hope for close coordination and cooperation between the EU and the UK as donors. This includes the possibility of drawing on each other's capacity to maximise efficiency, development effectiveness and progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals.

Hope for good cooperation in the future

To what extent these hopes will be fulfilled cannot be foreseen at the moment. It remains to be feared that in the near future there will rather be duplications of measures on the one hand and the discontinuation of aid on the other hand before a renewed constructive cooperation can be expected. A further commentary on possible effects can be found at here. What the budget cut in the UK could lead to for recipient countries, you read here.