Britain on Sunday reassured India it had no immediate plans to end its aid handouts, despite reports that it is about to pull the plug due to India’s rising wealth and a series of perceived snubs.
International Development Secretary Andrew Mitchell told the Sunday Times newspaper that Britain was now “walking the last mile” with India, cheering critics who have called for the aid package to be axed.
But the Department for International Development (DFID) later insisted the current programme would run its course.
Britain has spent Â£1 billion ($1.6 billion, 1.2 billion euros) on aid programmes in India over the past five years, with another Â£600 million committed until 2015.
Prime Minister David Cameron has faced calls to cut the handouts in light of India’s economic boom and after it appeared to spurn trade deals with Britain.
Mitchell refused to commit to any renewal of the package during the interview with the weekly newspaper.
“We are walking the last mile with them,” Mitchell said.
“I completely understand why people question the aid programme to India, and we questioned it ourselves.
“That’s why we reviewed every aspect of it when we came into government (May 2010) and changed it fundamentally. The fact is we didn’t mess around. ... We won’t be there forever.”
Mitchell’s department moved swiftly to play down suggestions that this meant the deal was certain to end in 2015, and said Britain’s position on aid to India had not shifted since the bilateral aid review of March 2011.
“The UK’s position remains the same — nothing has changed,” a DFID spokeswoman told AFP.
“The Indian government has made huge progress on tackling poverty but there is a huge need in India.
“We will not be there forever ... but now is not the time to end the programme.”
London was stunned in February when New Delhi announced a big contract to buy French warplanes instead of the UK-backed Eurofighter Typhoon, despite intense efforts by the British government to boost trade.
Cameron — who led a huge business delegation to India soon after taking office in 2010 — has pledged to press New Delhi to reverse its decision.
Britain faces another austerity budget on Wednesday in a bid to rein in Britain’s deficit. However, funding for foreign aid has increased under Cameron.
The government plans to enshrine in law his pledge to spend the United Nations target of 0.7 percent of gross national income on foreign aid.
A YouGov survey in The Sunday Times found that 66 percent thought Britain spent too much on foreign aid and 69 percent thought Britain should stop giving aid to India. YouGov polled 1,727 adults on Thursday and Friday.
Aid to Russia and China has also been subject to the axe since Mitchell took over his brief.