The UK government has announced it will cut the aid it provides to Yemen by more than half.
Foreign Office minister James Cleverly revealed at a virtual United Nations pledging conference that the UK’s contribution in the next financial year will be “at least £87m”, taking its contribution since the conflict began to more than £1bn.
This is a fall of 59% from 2020/21, when the figure stood at £214m.
It follows the government’s decision to cut foreign aid across the board by billions of pounds – from 0.7% of gross national income to 0.5%.
“The UK remains steadfast in our support to Yemeni people as one of the biggest donors of lifesaving aid and through our diplomatic efforts to bring peace,” a Foreign Office spokesperson said.
“Since the conflict began, we have supported millions of vulnerable Yemenis with food, clean water and healthcare, and will continue to do so. We are using our UN Security Council seat and working with our allies to push for a lasting resolution to the conflict. Yemen’s leaders must meaningfully engage with the UN to agree a ceasefire.”
Mr Cleverly told the conference that the UK’s contribution would “prioritise those most vulnerable and at highest risk” and provide at least 1.6 million people with access to clean drinking water and support 400 clinics to provide healthcare and feed 240,000 of the most vulnerable Yemenis every month.
The UN has launched an urgent appeal for more funding for aid in Yemen to avert a looming famine – which would drastically worsen the already devastating impact of the civil war.
The UK government’s decision drew swift criticism.
Labour’s shadow foreign secretary Lisa Nandy said it was a “deeply depressing statement of intent from the government”.
She added: “Despite all the talk of Global Britain this is us abandoning our moral obligations, pulling further away from our allies and stepping back just as the USA steps up.”
Conservative MP Jeremy Hunt, a former foreign secretary, said he was “deeply disappointed” with the decision.
“Abandoning a forgotten country and people is inconsistent with our values, weakens our moral authority and reduces our influence,” he said.
“We should be increasing the scale of our support in the face of such suffering; to cut it at this moment of extreme peril is incomprehensible.”
Labour’s Sarah Champion, chair of the Commons International Development Committee, slammed the move as “utterly appalling”.
“It sends a message that the UK is turning its back on the world’s worst humanitarian crisis,” she said.
“This is completely at odds with the government’s assertions that the UK should be a global leader, especially in the year with the G7 and COP presidencies.
“It is an astonishing move, particularly as the UK has the power – as penholder within the UN Security Council for Yemen – to lead the way to create a political solution to the conflict.”
Speaking to Sky News before the decision was announced, former international development secretary Andrew Mitchell said: “Any cut, let alone one of nearly 50%, will mean that four million Yemenis – mainly children – will continue the slow, agonising and obscene process of starving to death.”
He also predicted the government would have the greatest difficulty pushing its wider foreign aid cut through parliament.
“We are a generous country and every single elected member of the House of Commons promised in their manifesto just over a year ago not to cut the 0.7% spending on development,” said Mr Mitchell.