US on alert? Iran holds terrifying military drills to confront ‘foreign threats'

Tehran showed off its military might during the three-day annual military drill in the Gulf of Oman near the strategic Strait of Hormuz waterway. Dubbed Zolfaghar-99, naval, air and ground forces as well as submarines and drones participated in the exercise.

Admiral Habibollah Sardar told Iranian state TV the exercise was to confront “foreign threats and any possible invasion”.

Meanwhile, a spokesperson for the drill, Admiral Shahram Irani, revealed US drones had been removed from the area following a warning from Iran.

Tensions between the US and Iran have intensified over recent months.

The two countries were on the brink of war back in January after US forces killed Iranian major general Qassem Soleimani during a missile strike in Iraq.

General Soleimani was travelling through Baghdad when his convoy was struck by three US missiles.

Just days after the attack, Tehran retaliated and launched a series of ballistic missiles at two Iraqi bases housing US troops.

Washington has also been seeking an extension of a United Nations (UN) arms embargo against Tehran, under the Trump administration.

This is set to expire in October under the 2015 Iran nuclear deal which the US withdrew from.

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Tehran holds annual naval games in the Strait of Hormuz, a key oil-trading route.

Back in July, Iranian forces fired a missile from a helicopter targeting a replica of a US aircraft carrier.

In the same month, it was revealed Iran had underground cities armed with missiles along the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman.

Iranian Admiral Alireza Tangsiri said the weapons were a “nightmare” for their foes.

A spokesperson for the Pentagon said Iran is the “greatest threat to peace”.

They said at the time: “Iran claims to want good relations with its neighbours, yet it continues to threaten them with even greater levels of violence.

“Iran is the greatest threat to peace and security in the Middle East.

“Statements like this demonstrate clearly that the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and its leaders are a destabilising force in the region.”

Over the years, Iran has shown off a series of underground tunnels and command centres across the country.

Although analysts have been trying to pinpoint the facilities, Admiral Tangsiri said Iran’s foes had “inaccurate information”.



Queen Elizabeth II's favourite foreign gifted brooch worth £5,200 revealed

This includes one brooch, an image of which was posted on the Queen’s Instagram account. The Royal Family Instagram account paid tribute to emergency service workers in the UK.

Not only has the Queen worn the piece to carry out duties, but she has worn it for very important sentimental events too.

The piece, which is made of gold, is large and round and features over 60 diamonds, was a gift from President of Singapore.

Given to the Queen in 2012 for the Diamond Jubilee, it has an interesting history.

The Peranakan Chinese people are descended from immigrants to the Peninsular Malaysia and Singapore.

This style of jewellery is synonymous with Peranakan Chinese people.

Elizabeth II wore the piece for her great-granddaughter Princess Charlotte christening.

The Queen last wore the piece this year for Church at Sandringham on January 26. The fact Her Majesty takes the brooch to her country home with her shows it is quite the favourite.

As well as to church, the Queen often wears this brooch to another favourite type of a event of hers, the horse races.

She wore the piece to the Royal Windsor Cup in 2018, and has worn it to the first day of Ascot and the Epsom Derby.

The Queen gave another important piece of jewellery to Kate Middleton.

Kate has worn the Diamond Quatrefoil Bracelet on a number of occasions.

The huge glittering diamond bracelet has emotional significance for Her Majesty as it belonged to the Queen Mother.

The Queen Mother wore the piece as of 1958, although it is not known if the bracelet was a gift to her or a piece she bought or commissioned for herself.



Tory MPs clash in foreign aid row as £17bn fund called into question 'wrong and dangerous'

Bournemouth East MP Mr Ellwood said he was deeply concerned at the impact cuts to foreign aid would have on UK influence around the world – and warned China was all too ready to fill the vacuum. Earlier Mr Ellwood had taken to social media to voice his concern after widespread reports that the UK’s foreign aid budget – which totals £17billion annually – could be scaled back dramatically after the merger of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) and the Department for International Development (DfiD).

He tweeted: “I will not support this.

“It’s shortsighted in failing to appreciate how well targeted aid can strengthen relationships & open up new markets-thus helping the Treasury.”

Reacting to Mr Ellwood’s post, Mr Kawczynski told Express.co.uk: “I am very concerned that the chairman of the Defence Select Committee Tobias Ellwood is questioning publicly on his Twitter any notion of reducing foreign aid.

Tobias Ellwood Daniel Kawczynski

Tories Tobias Ellwood and Daniel Kawczynski have different views on the subject of foreign aid (Image: GETTY)

Foreign aid Africa

A foreign aid worker treats a child in Africa (Image: GETTY)

“I think this is very wrong, very dangerous and at this time of national crisis we have to massively reduce international aid but make sure it is spent on things that benefit the United Kingdom but also the global community.

“So bring more of the international aid budget into laboratories and research centres here in the United Kingdom on dealing with diseases, for example research into HIV, all the things that affect the United Kingdom that also affect third world countries.”

“So whether it is to do with medical research, whether it to do with planning innovative research into agricultural practices, and making greater yield in production costs, all of those things can be utilised to the benefit of the United Kingdom whilst also long-term having a beneficial effect on third-world countries.”

READ MORE: Brexiteer Rupert Lowe makes symbolic donation to Defund BBC campaign

Tobias Ellwood

Tobias Ellwood’s tweet (Image: Twitter)

Mr Kawczynski added: “There must be tens of thousands of areas whereby this £17billion a year which is currently spent overseas can be better utilised here in the United Kingdom creating local jobs and giving the economy an important boost at this very difficult time.

“Creating employment and helping research chemical and agricultural institutions, which will have long-term benefits for the third world.”

Mr Kawczynski added: “I think there is going to be a big, big battle ahead of us to balance our budget now but as a nation that is £2trillion in debt and with big interest payments of £50billion a year, we need a radical rethink as to whether we can continue in the short to medium term to sent £17-£18billion a year in British taxpayers’ money overseas.

“I would be very grateful if you would ask Express readers to join me in a campaign of lobbying their members of Parliament about the absolute essential need now to completely re-evaluate this agenda of spending £17billion a year overseas.

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Tobias Ellwood

Tobias Ellwood is the chairman of the Defence Select Committee (Image: GETTY)

Xi Jinping

China’s President Xi Jinping (Image: GETTY)

“Cameron and Clegg at the time ten years ago decided to instigate 0.7 percent of GDP to international aid without any comprehension of how this was going to be paid for at a time of fundamental national domestic crisis.”

Mr Ellwood, while not directly responding to Mr Kawczynski, told Express.co.uk: “There is a bigger picture here, there is an internationalist element which I tend to focus on.

“Britain’s reputation across the world is actually formed in a large part by our soft power, how we stand up for the international rules-based order and that is done through our aid budget.

“We don’t see the benefits of that so vividly here in the UK and it is understandable that there could calls see the budget reduced.

Belt and Road China

A map of locations encompassed by China’s Belt and Road Initiative (Image: GETTY)

“But we are missing a trick in appreciating that we need to advance and develop new markets.

“I want to see the aid budget work in tandem with our security budget to support countries upstream, strengthen our bonds and develop trading partnerships.

“That would make far better sense and be more of a logical strategy than simply cutting the budget in the first place.”

Mr Ellwood, who is also a member of Parliament’s China Research Group, also stressed a second aspect, which he said was just as important.

Russia's President Vladimir Putin

Russia’s President Vladimir Putin (Image: GETTY)

He said: “There is a real reason why we want to tackle poverty and poor governance across Africa and the Middle East.

“When we pull out, when we drop back, others then follow suit and we leave a vacuum, and that leads to terrorism, extremism and indeed even hostile states such as Russia and China filling that vacuum and pursuing a very different agenda.

“There are now dozens of countries which are now ensnared in Chinese debt with their One Belt, One Road programme and long-term commitments which mean they can no longer criticise China and then have to become subservient to China’s thinking.

“And that is actually fuelling a bi-polar world, which again is not in Britain’s interests.”



Foreign aid row: Tory MPs clash over budget cut amid China warning

Bournemouth East MP Mr Ellwood said he was deeply concerned at the impact cuts to foreign aid would have on UK influence around the world – and warned China was all too ready to fill the vacuum. Earlier Mr Ellwood had taken to social media to voice his concern after widespread reports that the UK’s foreign aid budget – which totals £17billion annually – could be scaled back dramatically after the merger of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) and the Department for International Development (DfiD).

He tweeted: “I will not support this.

“It’s shortsighted in failing to appreciate how well targeted aid can strengthen relationships & open up new markets-thus helping the Treasury.”

Reacting to Mr Ellwood’s post, Mr Kawczynski told Express.co.uk: “I am very concerned that the chairman of the Defence Select Committee Tobias Ellwood is questioning publicly on his Twitter any notion of reducing foreign aid.

Tobias Ellwood Daniel Kawczynski

Tories Tobias Ellwood and Daniel Kawczynski have different views on the subject of foreign aid (Image: GETTY)

Foreign aid Africa

A foreign aid worker treats a child in Africa (Image: GETTY)

“I think this is very wrong, very dangerous and at this time of national crisis we have to massively reduce international aid but make sure it is spent on things that benefit the United Kingdom but also the global community.

“So bring more of the international aid budget into laboratories and research centres here in the United Kingdom on dealing with diseases, for example research into HIV, all the things that affect the United Kingdom that also affect third world countries.”

“So whether it is to do with medical research, whether it to do with planning innovative research into agricultural practices, and making greater yield in production costs, all of those things can be utilised to the benefit of the United Kingdom whilst also long-term having a beneficial effect on third-world countries.”

READ MORE: Brexiteer Rupert Lowe makes symbolic donation to Defund BBC campaign

Tobias Ellwood

Tobias Ellwood’s tweet (Image: Twitter)

Mr Kawczynski added: “There must be tens of thousands of areas whereby this £17billion a year which is currently spent overseas can be better utilised here in the United Kingdom creating local jobs and giving the economy an important boost at this very difficult time.

“Creating employment and helping research chemical and agricultural institutions, which will have long-term benefits for the third world.”

Mr Kawczynski added: “I think there is going to be a big, big battle ahead of us to balance our budget now but as a nation that is £2trillion in debt and with big interest payments of £50billion a year, we need a radical rethink as to whether we can continue in the short to medium term to sent £17-£18billion a year in British taxpayers’ money overseas.

“I would be very grateful if you would ask Express readers to join me in a campaign of lobbying their members of Parliament about the absolute essential need now to completely re-evaluate this agenda of spending £17billion a year overseas.

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Tobias Ellwood

Tobias Ellwood is the chairman of the Defence Select Committee (Image: GETTY)

Xi Jinping

China’s President Xi Jinping (Image: GETTY)

“Cameron and Clegg at the time ten years ago decided to instigate 0.7 percent of GDP to international aid without any comprehension of how this was going to be paid for at a time of fundamental national domestic crisis.”

Mr Ellwood, while not directly responding to Mr Kawczynski, told Express.co.uk: “There is a bigger picture here, there is an internationalist element which I tend to focus on.

“Britain’s reputation across the world is actually formed in a large part by our soft power, how we stand up for the international rules-based order and that is done through our aid budget.

“We don’t see the benefits of that so vividly here in the UK and it is understandable that there could calls see the budget reduced.

Belt and Road China

A map of locations encompassed by China’s Belt and Road Initiative (Image: GETTY)

“But we are missing a trick in appreciating that we need to advance and develop new markets.

“I want to see the aid budget work in tandem with our security budget to support countries upstream, strengthen our bonds and develop trading partnerships.

“That would make far better sense and be more of a logical strategy than simply cutting the budget in the first place.”

Mr Ellwood, who is also a member of Parliament’s China Research Group, also stressed a second aspect, which he said was just as important.

Russia's President Vladimir Putin

Russia’s President Vladimir Putin (Image: GETTY)

He said: “There is a real reason why we want to tackle poverty and poor governance across Africa and the Middle East.

“When we pull out, when we drop back, others then follow suit and we leave a vacuum, and that leads to terrorism, extremism and indeed even hostile states such as Russia and China filling that vacuum and pursuing a very different agenda.

“There are now dozens of countries which are now ensnared in Chinese debt with their One Belt, One Road programme and long-term commitments which mean they can no longer criticise China and then have to become subservient to China’s thinking.

“And that is actually fuelling a bi-polar world, which again is not in Britain’s interests.”



Rishi Sunak urged to end ‘WASTEFUL’ foreign aid ‘Prioritise needs at home’

Rishi Sunak

Rishi Sunak is being urged to scrap the foreign aid budget (Image: PA)

Treasury officials are believed to be discussing the idea among a range of measures aimed at rebuilding the country’s shattered public finances. Figures from the Office for National Statistics last month showed UK public debt has soared over £2trillion for the first time in history because of emergency spending to support businesses during the lockdown and a collapse in tax revenue. Whitehall sources were yesterday reported having said the Chancellor wanted to “announce the intention” to scrap the target in the Budget.

Treasury officials declined to comment on the reports.

A Treasury spokeswoman said: “We can’t comment on speculation.”

But one senior Tory MP last night urged Mr Sunak to go ahead with axing the target.

Philip Davies, the MP for Shipley, said: “I very much hope the rumours of scrapping the foreign aid target are true.

“We must prioritise our needs at home and given how so much of it is wasted and given to countries who don’t need it, scrapping the aid target would be a very sensible step which would be hugely popular with the vast majority of voters.”

Many other Tories are likely to be in favour of scrapping the controversial target – set by the last Labour government and endorsed by David Cameron’s coalition – given the pressure on the public finances.

They have been critical of many examples of wasteful spending overseas in recent years with some of the cash being handed to countries such as China and India that spend billions on nuclear weapons and space exploration.

British taxpayers’ cash has been spent on dementia care in the Chinese province of Qingdao and yoga lessons for Indians with heart problems.

Ministers were expected to approve a massive £15.8billion of overseas aid spending this year as a result of the target.

A fall in GDP caused by the coronavirus lockdown is expected to cut that figure by nearly £3billion.

Scrapping the target would free the Chancellor’s hand to allocate billions from the aid budget to other needs such as reducing Government borrowing.

One obstacle to the change could be the need to repeal a law introduced under Mr Cameron to guarantee the spending commitment.

Boris Johnson is also understood to be reluctant to abandon promises made in the last Tory general election manifesto.

Preet Kaur Gill, Labour’s shadow international development secretary, said: “The British public are rightly proud of the role they have played in supporting the world’s poorest and most vulnerable.

“This latest move by the government to backtrack on a manifesto commitment they made last year shows that their word cannot be trusted, and signals a retreat from the world stage in the middle of a global pandemic.

“Labour is committed to continuing our global reputation as a development power by ensuring we continue to show Britain at its best; as an outward looking, progressive country making the world safer, fairer and better for all.”

Wendy Chamberlain, the Lib Dem spokeswoman on international development, urged the Government not to abandon the target.

“For too many vulnerable people in need around the world, UK foreign aid has made the difference between life and death.

“Despite previous assurances, the mask has now slipped and we can see the callous Tories for who they really are.

“By scraping foreign aid, the Government is abandoning the world stage and turning a blind eye to the crippling poverty children face around the world,” she said.

Speculation about the future of the aid budget comes ahead of the merger of the Department for International Development (DfID) with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office tomorrow.

Mr Johnson ordered the change, claiming DfID was seen by many people around the world as a “giant cashpoint in the sky”.

He wants aid spending diverted towards projects that will benefit the UK’s national interests.

The new merged department, to be headed by Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab, is to be called the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO).

One Government official is reported to have warned that the new department’s initials will lead to it being nicknamed “Focado”, rhyming with online supermarket Ocado.

International Development Secretary Anne-Marie Trevelyan will lose her frontbench job as a result of the shake-up but is tipped for a rapid return to the Cabinet at Mr Johnson’s next reshuffle.

John O’Connell, chief executive of the TaxPayers’ Alliance, said: “Since its inception, the arbitrary 0.7 percent foreign aid target has led to appalling waste, with British taxpayers’ money being thrown at wealthy countries and spurious projects.”



Rishi Sunak to axe foreign aid! £15billion a year could instead be spent on UK defence

As the worst recession in history looms over the UK, the Government is working on ways to help prevent the upcoming economic crisis. Chancellor Rishi Sunak has suggested foreign aid could face the cut.

The UK has a legal commitment to spend 0.7 percent of its GDP on foreign projects and some of the world’s richest countries, such as China and India, have benefited from taxpayers’ money.

But now, Mr Sunak has hinted the amount, which is up to £15 billion a year, could instead be used to fund Foreign Office and Ministry of Defence projects.

Although the Chancellor has support from Prime Minister Boris Johnson and the Foreign Secretary, Dominic Raab, the change would require primary legislation to come into effect.

This could take months, according to reports.

Multiple sources claim Mr Sunak is hoping to announce the intention to scrap the foreign aid in his November Budget.

The foreign aid budget, which was a flagship policy of David Cameron, is loathed by many Tory MPs.

In June, Mr Johnson scrapped the foreign aid department and merged it with the Department for International Development (DfID).

Mr Johnson said at the time: “The UK possesses the third biggest aid budget and diplomatic network in the world.

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He said: “Labour created DfID, and I am proud of that.

“Abolishing DfID abolishes Britain’s place in the world.

“The PM should stop these distractions and get on with tackling the health and economic crisis we currently face.”

Last month, it was revealed a staggering £71million of taxpayers’ money was given to Beijing in just one year, despite China having the second-largest economy in the world and its own space programme.

Some of this aid money was reportedly used to put Chinese firms in competition with their British counterparts.

The staggering figure was buried in the Department for International Development’s annual report in July.

The report found the £71.6million payment to China was sent via a combination of direct British aid and a share of funding the UK gives to the likes of the United Nations and EU, who then distribute it.

The money is also being spent on training primary school teachers and combating illegal trade in wildlife, despite numerous exotic meat farms still running throughout the Communist nation.

According to reports, the money is also used to support human rights despite Beijing’s crackdown of Uyghur Muslims.

Mr Raab said £3billion would be cut from the aid budget next year, with the axe falling on countries such as China.



'Scrap foreign aid!' Britons REJECT eye-watering £20bn tax hike to fund COVID-19 recovery

Treasury officials are proposing a number of dramatic tax hikes in an attempt to reverse the UK’s piling public debt and ward off a recession. The Chancellor is looking to target capital gains tax, corporation tax and pension tax relief in a bid to raise at least £20billion in extra funds after the coronavirus crisis haemorrhaged the public purse.

Some of the new measures could be introduced as early as the autumn budget, which Mr Sunak is expected to announce in late November.

Though the plans have yet to be finalised, the £20billion tax raid is expected to largely affect the wealthy, businesses, pensions and foreign aid.

If the measures are approved second-home owners could be hit especially hard, as the Government looks to bring capital gains tax in line with income tax.

A poll, which ran from 9am to 7pm on August 30, asked, ‘Would you accept £20bn tax drive to help pay for the pandemic?’

Britons reject eye-watering £20bn tax hike

Britons reject eye-watering £20bn tax hike (Image: PA)

Public refuse to accept Sunak's tax hikes

Public refuse to accept Sunak’s tax hikes (Image: Express)

The poll received 4,694 votes with 58 percent (2,657) of people objecting to Mr Sunak’s bombshell tax hikes.

One person said: “The people are already suffering as a result of this pandemic and the extended lockdown.

“The last thing the hard-working taxpayer needs is to see taxes increase and the money in their pocket reduce.”

Another reader added: “No need for tax rises, just cut public spending.

READ MORE: Rishi Sunak warned over plans to raid state pension triple lock

UK high street destroyed by COVID-19 lockdown

UK high street destroyed by COVID-19 lockdown (Image: Getty)

“Scrap HS2, no benefits to foreigners, scrap vanity projects, no more payments to the EU, scrap foreign aid, these are just for starters.”

Someone else said: “Absolutely NOT! Use the money we saved on EUSSR fees, or even better, use that for NHS as promised and the trade benefit from free trade agreements will pay for corona debt twice over!!!

“Conservatives are supposed to be low tax party!”

Another person argued increasing taxes would hinder the recovery rather than help it.

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Coronavirus cases around the world

Coronavirus cases around the world (Image: Express)

They said: “No, higher taxes would simply hinder the recovery as people would have less money to spend in the real economy.

“How about cancelling all foreign aid? That’s about £16B saved right there.

“Cancel HS2 as well and we could have a tax cut!”

Around 40 percent (1,922) said they were willing to help pay for the pandemic while just two percent (115) said they didn’t know.

London's Oxford Street deserted during lockdown

London’s Oxford Street deserted during lockdown (Image: Getty)

One person urged the Government to make sure large corporations are the first to be taxed.

They said: “As long as the first to be taxed are corporations who pay little or no tax here.

“It can’t be ordinary people who yet again bear the brunt of these measures.

“No more duty on fuel though, we already pay a fortune.”

Chancellor Rishi Sunak

Chancellor Rishi Sunak (Image: Getty)

Mr Sunak’s move would see capital gains tax almost double to 40 or even 45 percent, instead of the current 28 percent

The changes to capital gains tax will also affect owners of buy-to-let properties when they sell their houses.

The hike in capital gains is expected to raise up to £14billion a year.

The Treasury is also considering hiking corporation tax from 19 to 24 percent, which would raise £12billion next year alone, the Sunday Times reports.

By the 2023-24 financial year, the move would raise a whopping £17billion.



Foreign aid POLL: Should foreign aid be scrapped after 'misuse of taxpayers’ money'? VOTE

The UK economy has plummeted into its deepest recession in recent history, with the coronavirus pandemic and devastating effects of the imposed lockdowns blowing a huge hole in the country’s fragile finances. Britain’s economy suffered its biggest slump on record FROM April to June when it sunk by a massive 20.4 percent – well above the 9.8 percent drop for the 37 Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), which includes Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Spain and the US. Chancellor Rishi Sunak warned the Government is “grappling with something that is unprecedented” and that it was “a very difficult and uncertain time”.

But the UK is continuing to spend billions of pounds of taxpayers’ money on foreign aid, and the Government is coming under intense pressure to radically review the system, or even scrap it altogether.

British aid increased to £15.2 million in 2019, up from £14.6 million in 2018. This rise was more than the £493 million (3.5 percent) increase in 2018, but lower than the £652 million (5.1 percent) increase the year before.

Last month, the Government announced Britain will cut its global aid budget by £2.9 billion this year because of damaging economic impact of the coronavirus crisis, adding a review of aid projects has prioritised the most vulnerable countries for assistance.

The Government will still retain its commitment to spending at least 0.7 percent of Gross National Income (GNI) on international aid.

foreign aid poll

Should foreign aid be scrapped after ‘misuse of taxpayers’ money’? (Image: GETTY)

boris johnson foreign aid

Boris Johnson and his Government are coming under pressure over the UK’s huge foreign aid budget (Image: GETTY)

At present, the UK is the only G7 country to meet the spending target which was set as a goal by the United Nations in the 1970s.

Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab has confirmed along with the cut in spending, later this year the Government will launch a review to “look at how our aid budget can be used most effectively in our national interest”.

Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab told MPs in the House of Commons: “The coming months will doubtless bring with them a number of financial challenges, so I am writing to update you on the Government’s plans on how we will ensure we continue to meet our 0.7 percent Gross National Income (GNI) spending commitment for Official Development Assistance (ODA).

“Given the likely decrease in the size of the economy this year, the Prime Minister asked me to identify the changes needed to ensure we meet, but do not exceed the 0.7 percent commitment.

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“As this commitment is based on our GNI, when the economy shrinks, our ODA spend also reduces.”

He added: “This has been a thorough process, and we have been able to ensure that the money we will still spend in 2020 remains prioritised on poverty reduction for the ‘bottom billion’, as well as tackling climate change and reversing biodiversity loss, championing girls education, UK leadership in the global response to COVID-19, and campaigning on issues such as media freedom and freedom of religious belief, thereby ensuring that the UK is a global force for good.”

Most recently, it has been revealed the UK paid a firm £50 million to build classrooms for 120,000 children in Pakistan after being warned the buildings could collapse around them because they were in an earthquake zone (link to story).

The crisis-hit building programme has been slashed to less than 8,000 classrooms, with the cost of each surging from £3,000 to £21,000.

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dominic raab foreign aid

Dominic Raab announced the UK’s foreign aid budget would be slashed this year (Image: GETTY)

uk taxpayers foreign aid

Are UK taxpayers contributing too much to the foreign aid budget? (Image: GETTY)

Sarah Champion, chairwoman of the International Development Committee, told The Times: “I do not know of a worse example of aid misspend. It has shocked me to the very core that it went on for so long. This is a scandalous misuse of taxpayers’ money.

“The lack of accountability all the way through — from procurement to health and safety to delivery — was genuinely shocking. Are there other projects like this that are going as catastrophically wrong?

“There were two large failings. One, it seems that civil servants kept the information from ministers. But two, the ministers have known about this and I do not believe that they have got a grip on the scale and the severity of the problem still now.”

China received a staggering £71.6 million in British foreign aid in 2018 – despite Beijing’s economy being five times bigger than Britain’s.

The figures in the Department for International Development’s annual report last month showed some of the eye-watering sums was even used to help set up Chinese firms to compete with British businesses.

Former Conservative Party leader Iain Duncan Smith lashed out at the report, and questioned why the UK was sending millions to a country which was “breaking every rule in the book”.



Foreign aid scandal: UK gave £50m of taxpayers cash to build 'unsafe' Pakistan classrooms

The huge sum was paid to the company by officials running British aid’s biggest education infrastructure programme. The classrooms were eventually abandoned over design faults, meaning pupils were forced to be educated in tents or packed into current buildings during the coronavirus pandemic. This horrific situation first emerged last year, but The Times investigation claims officials at the Department for International Development (DFID) had been warned of problems long before that.

Ministers were kept in the dark for years, despite the independent assessment of the school plans triggering fears the buildings might not be structurally safe, according to the investigation.

Boris Johnson – who was unaware of design safety concerns – even laid a plaque at one of the schools as a mark of the UK’s investment in the education of Pakistani children. The girls’ school the Prime Minister inaugurated in Lahore has since been evacuated.

The crisis-hit building programme has been slashed to less than 8,000 classrooms, with the cost of each surging from £3,000 to £21,000.

Sarah Champion, chairwoman of the International Development Committee, told The Times: “I do not know of a worse example of aid misspend. It has shocked me to the very core that it went on for so long. This is a scandalous misuse of taxpayers’ money.

uk foreign aid boris johnson

The UK gave £50million of taxpayers cash to build ‘unsafe’ classrooms in Pakistan (Image: GETTY)

uk foreign aid earthquake

Pakistan has been devastated by huge earthquakes over recent years (Image: GETTY)

“The lack of accountability all the way through — from procurement to health and safety to delivery — was genuinely shocking. Are there other projects like this that are going as catastrophically wrong?

“There were two large failings. One, it seems that civil servants kept the information from ministers. But two, the ministers have known about this and I do not believe that they have got a grip on the scale and the severity of the problem still now.”

Next month, the DFID is being merged into the Foreign Office, with the select committee subsequently being terminated, and as a result, Ms Chapman fears there will now be less parliamentary scrutiny of aid, warning this affair “may well be symptomatic of other large-scale projects that DFID is running”.

The province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in the northwestern region of Pakistan, where classrooms were being built, is a dangerous earthquake zone, with 6,704 school buildings suffering damage in 2005 and 815 in 2015.

READ MORE: Coronavirus map LIVE: Infection rate trebles in Redditch

uk foreign aid pakistan

Pakistan was hit by a huge earthquake in 2005, which killed tens of thousands of people (Image: GETTY)

The under-fire building programme was handed a budget of £184million, including £164million from the UK, but quickly began experiencing problems.

The investigation claims the Board of Investment in Pakistan, which objected to two respected Britons on the programme, cancelled IMC’s registration in June 2014, before this company withdrew from the country six months’ later.

Following intense pressure, Pakistan let one of the employees return but insisted the other, whose duties included weeding out corruption, must be dropped, meaning the Dfid could not sign its contract with IMC until the row was resolved in April 2015, it is claimed.

IMC then doubled the price of each classroom to £6,000 just weeks after claiming costs were on track to meet budgets, a move that saw the DFID slash the number of classrooms by almost half from 30,000 to 16,000, with construction beginning in September 2015.

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uk foreign aid boris johnson

Boris Johnson and his government are coming under huge pressure to slash or even scrap the UK’s foreign aid budget (Image: GETTY)

uk foreign aid priti patel

Priti Pate, who was International Development Secretary at the time, was never told about the problems (Image: PA)

In October 2016, Halcrow Pakistan, a civil engineering firm hired by DFID for independent verification, sounded the first alarm British-built classrooms were potentially dangerous.

A Halcrow Pakistan source told The Times: “We confirmed these schools’ structure is unsafe primarily over the weak suggested construction model.”

Another two independent experts raised concerns, with the DFID warned about unsafe buildings, dangers around some building being used and the risk of them collapsing, but the Dfid continued paying IMC as checks continued and since the first warnings were made, nearly 3,000 classrooms have been built.

Priti Patel, who was International Development Secretary at the time, as well as her successors Penny Mordaunt and Rory Stewart, were never told about the problems.

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The earthquake in Kashmir in 2005 killed around 87,000 people (Image: EXPRESS)

Ministers were only alerted to the huge problems in June 2019 when the department had been taken over by current Business Secretary Alok Sharma, as University College London provided DFID with a draft review of design safety.

This sparked a furious response from MPs, leading IMC to assure it had provided children forced out of their classrooms with 541 “high quality tents”.

IMC was always paid – despite the DFID regarding the schools initiative in Pakistan as a “payment by results” programme, according to the Times.

Less than two-thirds of the income (63 percent) was spent on construction, with the remaining 37 percent spent on “technical assistance” such as fees and expenses for IMC staff.

uk foreign aid government

Ministers were only alerted to the huge problems in June 2019 when the department had been taken over by Alok Sharma (Image: GETTY)

IMC insisted the budget reflected the programme’s scale covering 1,300 locations over 130,000 sq km of challenging terrain.

The firm’s managing director Gavin English said: “Many newly constructed buildings develop some cracks, the majority of which are non-structural.

“Building designs were approved by engineering consultants registered with the Pakistan Engineering Council.”

DFID said: “The safety of children is our number one priority. It is completely unacceptable that schools, which UK aid commissioned IMC to build, have not been built to the necessary standards.

“IMC have committed to retrofit unsafe schools and classrooms to ensure these are fit for purpose.”