Hurricane Irma: OECD ‘not keen’ on changing aid rules for UK

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The body responsible for setting international rules on aid said it was “not keen” on making changes despite concerns from the UK about the strict regulations.

Downing Street has made clear that Prime Minister Theresa May is “frustrated” with rules set by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) which mean aid cash cannot be spent on British overseas territories hit by Hurricane Irma.

Devastation on the British Virgin Islands after Hurricane Irma. Picture: PA

Devastation on the British Virgin Islands after Hurricane Irma. Picture: PA

International Development Secretary Priti Patel has written to the OECD’s Development Assistance Committee (DAC) calling for reforms to reflect the vulnerability of the Caribbean island states, which stand in the path of tropical storms like Irma.

The rules prevent British overseas territories like Anguilla, Turks and Caicos and the British Virgin Islands from receiving money from the aid budget.

The DAC has said it is “open to discussing issues of concern with its member countries” and “it is important to stay relevant in a world with changing realities”.

But the DAC’s chairwoman told the BBC there was little appetite to reopen the rules governing overseas development assistance (ODA).

Speaking on Monday, before the latest round of political pressure from the UK, Charlotte Petri Gornitzka told the BBC: “We are not keen overall to reopen rules that very often.

“We have very important things on the agenda with the ‘in donor’ refugee costs, with the private sector instruments, with the reform of the DAC as such.”

• READ MORE: Hurricane Irma: UK overseas territories not eligible for aid

The Tory manifesto had committed the party to push for reform to the rules governing what counts towards the target of spending 0.7% of gross national income on aid.

Ms Petri Gornitzka said: “The committee welcomes the debate. But if that translates directly into reopening rules I would say it is not a given that that is the only outcome.

“Rules can be discussed, interpretation of rules can be discussed, obviously... I would not go that quickly. The talk is to reopen something for perhaps the sake of it, I don’t know.”

Ms Patel wrote to the DAC asking them to “develop options to ensure the aid rules reflect the needs of those impacted by natural disasters”.

“We believe that the international rules should take into account the vulnerabilities of small island states,” she said.

“These rules were first established over 40 years ago. The world has changed dramatically since then, and we will work constructively with international partners to ensure the rules remain relevant and up to date.”

Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, who returned on Thursday from a two-day visit to the Caribbean to view recovery efforts, said it was “natural” that Britain’s aid money should be used to help those whose lives have been devastated by Irma.

He said: “I think anybody with an ounce of compassion would like to see spending by our Government helping these people get back on their feet and getting these British overseas territories helped in the long term.

“Of course we are looking across Whitehall at ways in which we can make sure that our aid budget can be used in that way and I know that Priti Patel and all my colleagues are looking at how we can do that.

“That is absolutely natural and we are on that right now.”

The UK has pledged a total of £57 million towards disaster relief and the public has helped to raise a further £1.3 million.

Downing Street has insisted that the inability to use the aid budget has not affected the ability to fund the recovery effort.