LONDON (Reuters) - Britain’s ability to project its global influence is threatened by spending cuts and further reductions to its foreign affairs budget could be “disastrous”, a committee of lawmakers said in a report published on Friday.
Reducing Britain’s budget deficit has been the Conservative-led government’s key economic objective since it came to power in 2010 and both it and the opposition Labour party have said there will be more spending cuts whoever wins a May 7 election.
But in a report published on Friday, parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee said “severe” funding cuts at the Foreign Office (FCO) had already “gone beyond just trimming fat”.
“Further cuts would mean a reduction in the UK’s diplomatic imprint and influence,” said Richard Ottaway, a Conservative lawmaker and chairman of the cross-party committee.
“Impairing the FCO’s analytical capacity for the sake of a few million pounds could be disastrous and costly. The next government should protect FCO budgets from any further cuts.”
Spending on the Foreign Office’s “core” diplomatic and administrative functions will be 1.02 billion pounds ($1.6 billion) in 2014-15, the committee said, a 16.1 percent fall in real terms from 2010-11. That is more than the 10 percent cut targeted in a 2010 spending review.
The report said it was “alarming” that the strongest criticisms of the Foreign Office’s capacity to gain local knowledge, particularly due to a lack of language skills, related to regions of instability such as the Middle East, North Africa and Russia where it is needed most.
The Foreign Office already spends less per head of the population than counterparts in similar countries including the United States and Germany, and scope for further savings is limited, the committee said.
“The government would need to roll back some of its foreign policy objectives,” the report said. “In short, the FCO would need to aim to do less.”
Editing by Catherine Evans