In Brief

Bill Gates urges Theresa May to maintain foreign aid budget

Microsoft founder defends UK spending as Prime Minister refuses to say whether 0.7 per cent target will stay

Microsoft founder Bill Gates has urged the government not to drop its commitment to overseas aid after Theresa May refused to say whether she would protect the 0.7 per cent target.

Speaking in London last night, Gates warned withdrawing aid would "cost lives" and undermine the country's influence overseas.

Aid was "visible proof of the UK's goodwill and humanity" and "sets an example for other wealthy Western countries", he said.

He added that the Department for International Development, with which his Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is a partner, is "widely recognised as one of the most effective, efficient and innovative aid agencies in the world".

According to The Sun, Gates was due to meet the Prime Minister at Downing Street yesterday, but she cancelled the meeting at the 11th hour following her call for a snap election.

Gates told The Spectator aid is not given "unless there's a strategic goal – in terms of reducing pandemics, or creating stability to avoid war and migration".

He added: "So you're getting something back, avoiding problems for the UK and in particular the US."

He continued: "As someone who puts $5bn [£3.8bn] toward development aid, I have a strong interest in making sure that money is well spent."

The UK currently commits to spend 0.7 per cent of national income on overseas aid, a figure ring-fenced by former prime minister David Cameron.

May refused to say if she would renew that commitment in her 2017 election manifesto when it was discussed at Prime Minister's Questions yesterday.

Asked the same question by the Sun, she said: "You'll have to wait and read the manifesto when it comes, won't you?"

The tabloid says the UK's aid spending is a "hugely expensive… jumbo aid giveaway" which is widely "hated".

Tory MP Jacob Rees-Mogg said the snap general election was "an opportunity to refashion policy and drop some mistaken promises – especially overseas aid".

However, Andrew Mitchell, former international development secretary, told BBC Newsnight he hoped the pledge would be retained.

He said: "Around the world we are lauded and respected for the lives we are saving as a result of this budget, but in Britain it receives very hostile treatment from elements of the press."

Gates was joined at the Royal United Services Institute for Defence and Security Studies discussion last night by Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson, who argued aid would be vital to keep Britain a "good global citizen" after Brexit.

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