30 July 2020, The Tablet

Principles must come before profits


It is right that Britain and its major institutions should repent of their participation in the international slave trade, a crime against humanity whose vast consequences are still being felt. The British were the major slave traders on the highly profitable route from West Africa to North America. Had that trade not existed, would there have been a race problem in the United States today? Arguably, there would not.

The Prime Minister has announced the biggest review of British foreign, defence and international aid policy since the end of the Cold War, to report in the autumn. In the same announcement he described how the Department for International Development (DFID) was to be absorbed into the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, and the overseas aid budget, still set at 0.7 per cent of GDP, would in future be administered in ways that served British interests. Which invites the question: would this new combined department, had it existed at the start of the nineteenth century, have opposed the ending of the slave trade? Would the philanthropic and humanitarian impulses that drove the abolitionist cause be overruled as contrary to British interests?

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