Brexit: EU accused of making false claims over aid contracts

Brexit: EU accused of making false claims over aid contracts
Brexit: EU accused of making false claims over aid contracts

Exclusive: British NGOs ‘wrongly’ told they will lose funding if no deal is reached

Officials working for Martin Selmayr have been accused of inserting disclaimers into aid contracts. Photograph: John Thys/AFP/Getty Images

The EU has been accused of putting the lives of the world’s poorest at risk after warning off British development organisations from involvement in its humanitarian aid programmes by claiming they would lose all funding in the event of the a no-deal Brexit.

Officials working under Martin Selmayr, the most senior aide to the European commission president, Jean-Claude Juncker, have inserted disclaimers in aid contracts warning UK NGOs that they will be dropped as a partner in programmes should Britain crash out of the EU next year.

But the commission – which has recently increased efforts to prepare for a no-deal scenario – has been accused of over-reaching. It emerged that British aid programme providers should still remain eligible for many contracts, due to the UK’s membership of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, an intergovernmental body. The contracts include programmes tackling sexual violence in Zambia.

The UK’s aid sector is widely regarded as one of the world’s most effective and there are fears that the damage has already been done to providers and the causes they serve in dissuading leading organisations from involvement in key projects.

The development is likely to inject fresh tension into Brexit negotiations at a critical time. It follows a series of rows over the EU’s Brexit preparations.

Claire Godfrey, the head of policy and campaigns at Bond, the UK network that represents 400 international development NGOs, said: “We are very concerned that the European commission has misunderstood the eligibility criteria for UK NGOs to access funding from the EU in the event of a Brexit no-deal scenario.

“There is a real danger that UK NGOs will be both discouraged from applying and be discriminated against during the process, if the proper criteria are not used. Ultimately, it will be the people who benefit from UK NGOs humanitarian response who will bear the brunt of this if UK NGOs’ activities are diminished.”

Sources claimed that UK aid organisations working in Nigeria, Bangladesh and Myanmar had beendissuaded from involvement in contracts, although that could not be independently verified.

A UK government spokesman said: “We are clear that this disclaimer must be removed by the European commission. As it stands, they are hindering British aid organisations’ ability to deliver the common goal of alleviating poverty, which would hit the world’s poorest people hardest.”

The commission’s disclaimers are one aspect of a wider campaign to advise organisations working in fields ranging from aviation and haulage to the financial sector that the EU will likely shut down their ability to operate across Europe and block funding streams from Brussels in the event of a “no deal” Brexit.

The note on the aid contracts state: “For British applicants: Please be aware that eligibility criteria must be complied with for the entire duration of the grant.

“If the United Kingdom withdraws from the EU during the grant period without concluding an agreement with the EU ensuring in particular that British applicants continue to be eligible, you will cease to receive EU funding (while continuing, where possible to participate) or be required to leave the project on the basis of Article 12.2 of the General Conditions 1 to the grant agreement.”

A commission source confirmed that entities from OECD countries would remain eligible but claimed that the disclaimer in question was of a general nature and intended to ensure that UK NGOs analyse carefully their own situation, in accordance with the legal basis of their programme, before entering into a contract.

The UK government has argued that the commission’s preparedness warnings are merely an attempt by Brussels to steal contracts from British organisations for the benefit of the remaining 27 member states.

The EU’s decision to block the UK’s space industry from contracts on the £8.8bn Galileo satellite project, whether a Brexit deal is struck or not, has prompted threats that the UK will go it alone and build its own navigational system for industry, citizens and the military.

The EU said it will not negotiate under threat. It insisted that the UK was a player in making the rules on non-EU involvement and should accept the consequences of Brexit.

The bloc’s chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, has accused British politicians of trying to pin the blame for the Brexit fallout on Brussels.

In some EU aid and development programmes, UK NGOs would be vulnerable to funding streams being suddenly cut off in the event that Brexit negotiations fail but a large tranche should not be affected after 29 March 2019, no matter the outcome.

Those include initiatives funded by the European Development Fund (EDF) and Development Cooperation Instrument (DCI), which are delivered in Least Developed Countries (LDC) or Highly Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC).

It is understood that representations have been made by the sector and UK officials to EU bodies over the aid contract disclaimers.

The EU and the UK pledged in a joint report agreed in December to act cooperatively after Brexit in areas where the British government has made a substantial financial commitment in the past.

A source with knowledge of discussions with EU officials said: “These warnings are in many cases legally inaccurate and are certainly an example of backsliding from the agreements the EU struck with the UK.

“We hear worrying reports of UK organisations being blocked from bidding, rejected for partnerships and having extensions to good programmes cut short.

“These legal notices might be a fun game for Martin Selmayr but they prevent some of the most vulnerable people on the planet from benefiting from the best aid possible.”

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