In Brief

UK to 'leverage' £12bn foreign aid budget for trade deals

Priti Patel to use meetings with foreign leaders whose countries receive help as way to sign new agreements

The UK will "leverage" its £12bn foreign aid budget to build new trade deals as it exits the European Union, says the Daily Telegraph.

International Development Secretary Priti Patel, a prominent Brexit campaigner during the referendum, says her department will look to use meetings with foreign leaders from countries that receive aid to "open the door" to new deals.

"If ministers have meetings with countries which we've given hundreds of millions of pounds to, why can't we use that to start a conversation about trade?" she said.

The UK's foreign aid bill last year was £12.2bn, as the government kept its pledge to spend 0.7 per cent of national income on international aid for the third year running.

More than 40 per cent of the budget goes to organisations such as the United Nations, while the remainder is "bilateral aid" given to individual countries.

The biggest recipients last year were Pakistan (£351m), Ethiopia (£334m) and Nigeria (£254m). India, one of the world's largest developing economies, also features in the top ten with £150m.

Patel's approach will "help address the frustrations of many backbench Conservative MPs, who have raised repeated concerns about Britain's 'ballooning' foreign aid budget", which was fixed at the UN-defined 0.7 per cent goal by David Cameron during the coalition government.

With the budget for the Department for International Development forecast to overtake the amount given to local councils to collect bins and run local services, more than 200,000 people have signed a petition calling on the Tories to scrap the target.

Despite the discontent from some, researchers at the London School of Economics insist surveys consistently show a large majority of the public supports retaining the 0.7 per cent aid commitment.

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