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Rory Stewart: I will double foreign aid spent on climate change fight | Politics News

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Tory leadership candidate Rory Stewart has said he would double the amount of foreign aid spent on fighting climate change, and revealed he wants to reform Britain’s spy agencies.

The international development secretary also wants to double Britain’s diplomatic budget and shift its foreign policy focus away from the Middle East and more towards Asia and Africa.

He set out his vision in an interview with Sky News, saying if he became prime minister he would aim to unite the country and the Conservative Party around a compromise agreement on the other big topic of the moment – Brexit.



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But the former diplomat warned that the Tories could end up splitting if a Brexiteer like Boris Johnson or Dominic Raab wins the race to become prime minister on a pledge to take Britain out of the European Union without a deal if necessary.

Mr Stewart said: “I am worried about us splitting.

“The reason I am worried about us splitting is that I think this is a country which is on the brink of having an extraordinary future… The next 15 years could really be ours and what really makes me sad about this is that if we get stuck in this Brexit fight and these divisive outlooks we are not going to seize that opportunity.”

The 46-year-old, who is MP for Penrith and The Border in Cumbria, only appears to have an outside chance of succeeding Theresa May.

But he says he is focused on victory.



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Mr Stewart is trying to meet as many members of the public as possible, advertising his whereabouts on Twitter and inviting people to come and meet him.

He chose the leafy backdrop of Kew Gardens to talk about his plans for the Department for International Development (DfID), having taken charge only four weeks ago.

“I want to make DfID centred on climate change and the environment,” he said.

The goal to increase the amount of the department’s £11bn budget allocated to this area to £2.2bn would be met over five years, rising from £1.1bn next financial year.

Mr Stewart warned: “We are facing an environment cataclysm. Quite literally the ice shelf is going 10 times more quickly than people expected, we are about to lose maybe a million species on Earth and that is even before you count the fact that 100 million more people will be in poverty unless we tackle this. We have to tackle this.”

It marks a significant shift in focus for foreign aid spending which has typically been spent on assistance and development programmes for people in the poorest parts of the world.



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Mr Stewart said the move would not be to the detriment of other aid projects.

“The real lesson of the last 10 to 15 years is that poverty and climate are actually one of the same thing,” he said. “We are facing a people emergency and a climate emergency and it is the same emergency because actually that poverty is driven by the desertification in the Sahara, it’s been driven by agriculture crops no longer being able to be grown in Africa, it is driven by a thousand factors.”

He is better placed than most politicians to understand international development, having run two provinces in Iraq as a British diplomat following the 2003 invasion and run a charity in Afghanistan. He also trekked 6,000 miles from Turkey to Bangladesh between 2000 and 2002.

The climate change push makes political sense as well as being right for the planet, he said, at a time when an increasing number of people are supporting a green agenda.

Backing such a popular cause should also make it harder for other government departments – that eye DfID cash with envy and question the use of taxpayers’ money for overseas development when there is poverty at home – to raid the foreign aid coffers.

Mr Stewart said the additional investment would go into programmes such as protecting rainforests and supporting endangered species such as Indonesian orangutans, as well as funding research at British universities into new forms of renewable energy.

While his goals are not an official DfID announcement, the minister said he would work to make sure they are set in motion even if he is only in the job for as long as the Tory leadership race lasts.

Mr Stewart, who is married with two young children, has big ideas on wider aspects of foreign policy.

He said: “If I was lucky enough to be prime minister, I would completely reframe our intelligence services, our defence services, our diplomats and our development.

“I think our diplomatic budget should be doubled, I think we should be moving our focus from the Middle East to Asia and Africa… The Middle East does matter but ultimately in the end places like Asia and Africa are going to be where the great opportunities and challenges of the next 50 years lie.”

He declined to set out in public what he had in mind for the future of MI6, MI5 and GCHQ other than to say: “I assure you there is a lot of reform that needs to happen there.”



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On Brexit, Mr Stewart says he is the only leadership candidate explicitly to rule out no deal. He also said he could not serve in a cabinet under a leader who thought otherwise.

“A no-deal Brexit can’t happen, can’t get through parliament,” he said.

“It is actually a recipe for delay. There is a further problem apart from it being damaging. It is not a destination. It is a failure to reach a destination. You go into a no deal and you still need to get a future deal with the EU and a future deal with the US. No deal doesn’t give you anything it just puts you into a sort of purgatory, a zombie land.”

Like Mr Johnson, he studied at Eton, but he said he hoped people would judge him on the whole package – adding: “You can choose to focus on the five years I spent in Eton between the ages of 13 and 18. Or you can choose to focus on the five years I spent in Afghanistan or the five years I spent serving my country in Iraq, the Balkans and Indonesia. So judge me on the whole lot and judge me by what I do.”

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