European Commission discriminating against UK aid charities, secretary of state warns

Penny Mordaunt, the international development secretary, tells parliament there is evidence the EU has warned British charities that their funding would be pulled if there is a hard Brexit

Penny Mordaunt
Penny Mordaunt

UK international development charities are being "blatantly discriminated against" by the European Commission in the run-up to Brexit, Penny Mordaunt, the international development secretary, has told MPs.

Appearing before the International Development Select Committee in parliament yesterday, Mordaunt said the government had evidence that the EU had been sending out disclaimers to UK charities warning them their funding would be pulled in the event of a hard Brexit.

Earlier this month, media reports said that officials working for Martin Selmayr, a senior aide to Jean-Claude Juncker, president of the European Commission, had been inserting disclaimers in aid contracts warning UK international development charities they would lose their funding if Britain leaves the EU without a trade deal.

The international development umbrella body Bond has said that, because the UK is a member of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, this should ensure that UK charities could still get funding from the EU for their aid programmes even in the event of a hard Brexit.

Mordaunt told the committee the draft withdrawal agreement confirmed that British charities could participate in current EU programmes and bid for funding as normal up until December 2020.

"However, this is clearly not being adhered to," she told MPs. "The European Commission is using disclaimers that discriminate against UK organisations.

"We are clear that the European Commission must remove these disclaimers it is using to hinder British aid organisations from delivering the common goal of alleviating poverty, which would hit the world’s poorest people hardest."

She said the disclaimers were being applied to both funding for aid programmes that the UK channels through the EU budget and also to funding that the UK had chosen to channel through the EU as its preferred delivery partner, such as through trust funds and other joint programmes.

"We have raised these issues with the commission multiple times and we are shocked and disappointed by their behaviour, which does not set a good precedent for any future partnership," Mordaunt said.

"I have been very clear that if we are contributing to UK funds and EU projects, then UK NGOs must have access, and we are now looking at how we can use the aid budget to protect UK organisations from this discriminatory practice."

Approximately £1.5bn of UK aid funding goes through EU aid programmes. Mordaunt said that it would be "very odd" if British involvement in EU programmes did not continue.

"At the moment we have clear evidence of where British NGOs and companies are being blatantly discriminated against," she said.

"That cannot continue – it is not in good faith. We want to have a good partnership in good faith.

"I would urge everyone at the commission to desist from these disclaimers and the discrimination that is going on."

Mordaunt said that the UK was seeking a "very different" relationship with the EU and the UK was looking for a shared framework that would allow UK oversight of any funding it provided to aid programmes.

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