GRAND ambitions were laid bare as Penny Mordaunt took to the stage to outline her bold vision for Britain’s future international aid policy.
It was a day that was meant to mark the next critical milestone in the Portsmouth North MP’s role as international development secretary.
Yet as The News arrived at the grand Wellcome Collection in London to witness her speech, there was a curious mood in the air, one at odds with what UK Aid represented – one of war.
It was tough to avoid all the news stands overflowing with papers, splashed with headlines across them like: ‘Get ready Russia’, ‘The missiles are coming’ and ‘One tweet from war?’.
Dominating almost all the national titles were pictures of US president Donald Trump and Russian leader Vladimir Putin as they goaded each other, both threatening military action against the other over Syria.
And it was an escalating crisis that Ms Mordaunt was unable to dodge, having been summoned into emergency cabinet talks with Theresa May over what action Britain will take.
It was a situation that led to her cutting short her time in front of journalists, aid agencies and charities, ditching a question-and-answer session on her new aid strategy.
Instead, the audience was left with an outline of what the UK will do – a speech that was short on concrete details but long on colour and grandeur, celebrating the nation’s wartime past and its future role as a ‘world-leader’ – a ‘global Britain’ in a post-Brexit world, Ms Mordaunt stressed.
Speaking in front of an almost-full auditorium, she confidently described how Britain had a critical role to play in improving the world, one that needed the nation to ‘unite’ to achieve.
As well as acting as a ‘shield’ against pandemics and poverty, the Tory minister announced the launch of a new ‘great partnership’ that she said would ‘connect all that our nation has to offer, its talents, its people and communities, its expertise and knowledge, and its resource to those in the developing world’.
Despite having to shy away from questions, Ms Mordaunt didn’t dodge the roll Britain has played in supporting the innocent communities in war-torn Syria, blasted apart and besieged as a brutal civil war rages.
The Department for International Development (DfID) has already pumped plenty of cash into helping those fleeing the terror, with £2.46bn committed from the UK in humanitarian aid to the region.
And in her speech, Ms Mordaunt told the audience how Britain would continue to battle tyranny and provide aid to area’s torn apart by war.
‘Britain stands for free trade and cooperation, the rule of law, justice and human rights,’ she said. ‘We believe in bravery, in service and in sacrifice. We believe in the potential of the people...We’re unselfish because we believe in freedom.’
A key part of her revamp included the critical role preventing organised crime, terrorism and their root causes, can have in ensuring the prosperity of developing nations – with Africa top of the UK’s aid hit list.
Ms Mordaunt said Britain would never shy away from its role in tackling these issues, adding the UK would benefit by being a ‘global leader’.
To achieve this, she will focus on the three ‘Ds’: diplomacy, development and defence.
‘We know we can only talk softly if we carry a big stick,’ she added. ‘And we know that without diplomacy and the 0.7 per cent on aid we are going to need an even bigger stick.’
She promised better collaboration between government departments,
And in the wake of the Oxfam sex abuse scandal, Ms Mordaunt sought to hit back at critics, vowing to be tighter on who the UK would help.
‘We won’t do tied aid. It’s bad for UK competitiveness and it’s bad for developing nations,’ she said. ‘We won’t fund programmes that fail to meet the new spending bar.
‘We will not fund organisations that don’t perform or meet our standards or contribute to our objectives.
‘We won’t fund governments who can afford to, yet chose not to, invest in their own people.’
It was a speech welcomed by the crowd but one that jarred with the prospect of Britain joining more airstrikes in Syria, action which critics say won’t solve the crisis – only perpetuate it.