Minister warns charities that the EU is 'still discriminating' against them

A letter from Alok Sharma, the Secretary of State for International Development, says this is happening despite guarantees that UK charities could participate in EU programmes post-Brexit

Alok Sharma (Photograph: Benet Coulber/DfID)
Alok Sharma (Photograph: Benet Coulber/DfID)

The new international development secretary has warned that the European Union is still discriminating against UK charities when awarding funding.

A letter from Alok Sharma to international development charities, which was published on Friday, warns that there are still cases of discrimination by the EU Commission despite guarantees that UK charities could participate in EU programmes.

Last year, Sharma’s predecessor, Penny Mordaunt, warned that the commission had been sending out disclaimers to UK charities warning that funding would be pulled in the event of a hard Brexit.

Because the UK is a member of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, charities should still be eligible for funding from the EU for aid programmes post-Brexit.

"On the issue of EU discrimination against British civil society organisations, we have been in direct communication with the EU Commission and, despite their reassurance that all organisations are treated equally, I understand there have been further reported instances of discrimination," Sharma’s letter says.

"I will continue to raise further reported cases with them and continue to monitor the situation closely."

There is approximately £1.5bn in UK aid funding tied up in EU programmes, and the government has promised to fund any programme in which a UK organisation is a lead consortium partner or sole implementer in the event of a no-deal Brexit and the loss of funding from the EU.

Sharma says in his letter that charities should apply to the government for financial assurance for any new programme, and should do so before 31 October, the day the UK is currently scheduled to depart the EU.

He also tells charities to prepare for the UK’s exit on 31 October "whatever the circumstances".

The letter says: "We would, of course, prefer to leave with a deal and we will work in an energetic and determined way to get that better deal.

"Stepping up all necessary preparations for our exit is now the government’s top priority. For DfID, this means ensuring our world-class civil society organisations are able to continue delivering life-saving support to the world’s most vulnerable."

Claire Godfrey, interim director of policy, advocacy and research at Bond, the umbrella body for international development charities, said: "Our focus is trying to make sure that, whatever the outcome of Brexit, it doesn’t leave people across the world facing poverty and conflict any worse off.

"DfID has provided welcome reassurances to our world-class sector over recent months, but the reality is this isn’t just about funding."

She said this involved "redefining" the UK’s role in the world through a focus on international development.

"Continuing to work with our EU partners is key to this because that’s the only way we are going to have any hope of tackling huge global challenges such as inequality and poverty, climate change, humanitarian emergencies and the refugee crisis," said Godfrey.

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