Britain has sent more than £4 million ($7.1 million) in foreign aid to North Korea in the past six years despite the communist regime's threat to spark nuclear war, it emerged last night.

Official figures reveal the UK spent £740,000 ($1.3 million) of taxpayers' money on aid projects in the despotic regime in 2015 alone - a 167 per cent increase on the previous year, according to Daily Mail.

The Foreign Office, which is responsible for most of the spending, yesterday said it had no plans to axe the aid programme.

Sources said aid could help improve relations with the pariah state, although there is little evidence it has had much impact since the payments to the country began to be increased in 2010.

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The money also counts towards the Government's controversial target of spending 0.7 per cent of Britain's income on international development.

Last night ministers were facing fresh calls to end all aid to North Korea in response to the increasingly bellicose threats from dictator Kim Jong-un.

Former Tory defence minister Sir Gerald Howarth said it was unacceptable to hand taxpayers' money to a country bent on attacking the West and its allies.

"It is completely absurd to be giving aid to North Korea at this time," he said.

"There are some very poor people there because of the regime's actions, but the country is a communist basket case.

"They are trying to build a nuclear missile to hit the United States, they are destabilising the entire region. Why on earth are we giving them aid?"

Sir Gerald said the case highlighted the problems caused by the 0.7 per cent aid target, which was enshrined in law by the Coalition government.

He added: "Ridiculous cases like this are just more evidence of the need to re-examine the whole basis of the aid programme. We need to repeal the legislation, slash the aid budget dramatically and spend the money on priorities like defence and social care."

Prominent Ukip donor Arron Banks described the spending on North Korea as "shocking".

"In the past we've had issues with the wastefulness of the foreign aid budget, but this is beyond ridiculous," he said.

North Korea continues to threaten nuclear attacks. Photo/AP
North Korea continues to threaten nuclear attacks. Photo/AP

"While we funnel money into this failing state, they are spending most of their own resources developing nuclear weapons designed to wipe us off the map.

"What's next? Giving foreign aid to Islamic State?"

The aid programme is also potentially embarrassing for Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson who has warned the despotic regime it "must stop these belligerent acts and comply with UN resolutions" after a failed missile test over the weekend.

North Korea upped the ante again yesterday in its stand-off with the West, telling the United Nations that "nuclear war may break out at any moment".

But the Foreign Office insists that its aid policy is helping to improve relations with the communist country.

In 2009, British aid to North Korea stood at just £32,000 ($57,000).

But spending was increased rapidly by the Coalition government from 2010 onwards as it pursued the new aid target.

In the past six years, more than £4 million ($7.1 million) of taxpayers' money has been spent on aid projects in the country, with spending peaking at £1.3 million ($2.3 million) in 2013.

Projects include schemes designed to promote Western values - such as English lessons for regime officials and workshops for entrepreneurs.

But money has also been spent on projects to provide equipment and training for physiotherapy units in the country, potentially allowing the regime to free up resources to spend on its murderous military programme.

The Foreign Office last night defended the programme, and stressed that money is spent on individual schemes rather than handed directly to the regime.

A spokesman said: "The projects we carry out in North Korea are part of our policy of critical engagement, and are used to promote British values and demonstrate to the North Korean people that engaging with the UK and the outside world is an opportunity rather than a threat.

"We conduct a range of small-scale project work, many of which help to improve the lives of the most vulnerable members of society."