The International Development Secretary, Penny Mordaunt, is considering withdrawing £11.1m of funding to UNESCO, the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation.
The Times reported that the Department for International Development ranked UNESCO as the “worst performing multilateral agency,” and believes that “its work does not meet her spending criteria for international aid”.
They move was later opposed by Environment Secretary Michael Gove, the Foreign Office and 10 Downing Street. The Prime Minister’s spokesman said: “There has been no change to our commitment to UNESCO. Since 2016 the UK has made efforts to drive reform and improve performance at UNESCO and we have seen positive developments. However, more progress is required.”
Shadow Foreign Secretary Emily Thornberry told The Times: “If Penny Mordaunt was truly worried about the organisation’s financial difficulties she would stay inside it and help reform … to just walk away instead is an act of political petty-mindedness and seamless cultural vandalism.” Thornberry also wrote an op-ed in the Guardian on Tuesday attacking the idea and claiming that the only reason the US and Israel withdrew from UNESCO was because it admitted Palestine as a member.
In May 2017, UNESCO adopted a resolution regarding Jerusalem that was highly critical of Israeli policy. The 58-member UNESCO Executive Board approved the resolution which coincided with Israel’s Independence Day. The document referred to Israel as the “occupying power” in Jerusalem, which Israel interpreted as suggesting that it has no legal or historical ties to any part of Jerusalem. The resolution was submitted on behalf of the Palestinian Authority (PA) by Algeria, Egypt, Lebanon, Morocco, Oman, Qatar and Sudan. At the time, the UK and US were among the ten countries voting against the resolution, 22 countries voted in favour and 23 abstained.
In 2016 UNESCO passed a similar resolution that omitted any Jewish connection to the Temple Mount in Jerusalem’s Old City.
Last year President Donald Trump withdrew the US from the organisation after accusing it of “anti-Israeli bias”. Israel also withdrew from the body, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu claiming it had become “a theatre of the absurd”.