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What will the new UK government mean for Africa?

By Gemma Ware
Posted on Friday, 14 May 2010 09:35

In the Know features an interview, opinion or analysis on the events making the news in Africa each week.

There will be more continuity than change for Britain’s Africa policy under the new government, predicts former Africa minister Lord Mark Malloch-Brown.

British policy towards Africa is likely to change little under the new Conservative-led coalition government, according to Lord Mark Malloch-Brown, a former UK minister of state with responsibility for Africa. However, he warned that plans to limit the number of immigrants into the UK would be a “huge tragedy”.

After five days of uncertainty and political manoeuvring following a general election where no one party won an overall majority, a new UK government was formed on 11 May with a coalition of Conservative and Liberal Democrat MPs. Led by Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron, it is the first British coalition government in nearly 70 years.

In an interview on 6 May, election day, at the fringes of the World Economic Forum (WEF) on Africa in Dar es Salaam, Lord Mark Malloch-Brown, a former UK minister in the outgoing Labour government and the WEF’s Vice-Chair for Public Policies, told The Africa Report that the UK’s Africa policy would be subject to changes in tone rather than substance.

“There’s likely to be a lot more continuity than change,” he said. “In truth, there’s just a pretty non-partisan consensus around African policy.” Malloch-Brown pointed to commitments made during the closing stages of the election campaign by now-Prime Minister David Cameron, who pledged to protect the development budget and the commitment to spend 0.7% of GDP on foreign aid.

He said there could be some changes in emphasis. “I think you’ll see an effort to get the Foreign Office and Department for International Development working more closely together if there’s a Tory [Conservative] government. I also think there’s likely to be more emphasis on private-sector driven development.” A coalition with the Liberal Democrats could bring an “increased emphasis on human rights versus development as the criteria for how aid was allocated,” he said.

However, Malloch-Brown criticised Conservative plans to impose a cap on the number of immigrants into the UK as “a huge tragedy” for Britain in Africa. Under the Conservative plans, which have remained as part of the coalition document agreed with the Liberal Democrats, there would be an – as yet unnamed – annual limit on the number of economic migrants allowed into Britain from outside the European Union.

“I just don’t myself think it’s reasonable to have a situation where the increased numbers of European Community immigrants are driving out Britain’s historical links,” said Malloch-Brown. Of particular concern is how this might affect policy the number of students and business visitors able to visit Britain.

He said there had already been “increasing anxiety” in Africa about the tightening up on immigration controls introduced under the previous Labour government, particularly over the hub-and-spoke system, where passports had to be sent to another country for visas to be processed, and the introduction of “visas where there had not been visas before”. Malloch-Brown continued, “and all of these, which are modest compared to what’s implied by the cap system, already created howls of pain. I’m very concerned by that.”

In terms of its wider multilateral relationships, Malloch Brown said a Conservative government would be keen to push links with the Commonwealth, but that he was not “quite sure what it will mean in practice – that is additional and different to what was being done before. I think you will see to some extent a Tory government casting around for other multilateral alliances to show that the UK isn’t lonely in the world. I think there will be a lot of, at least, rhetorical emphasis on the Commonwealth.”

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