Boris Johnson faces Commons rebellion over 'devastating' cuts to foreign aid

Credit: PA Wire/PA Images

Boris Johnson faces a damaging revolt by dozens of senior Tories over his decision to cut the UK’s aid spending.

The Prime Minister’s predecessor Theresa May and former Cabinet ministers Andrew Mitchell and David Davis are among Conservative rebels backing a move to reverse the decision to cut spending on aid from the legally-enshrined 0.7% of national income.

Mr Johnson slashed aid spending to 0.5% of national income as the coronavirus pandemic hit the economy, but ministers have insisted it is only a temporary measure until the nation’s finances are repaired.

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The 0.7% target is written into law and maintaining it was a Tory manifesto commitment in 2019, but cutting it will save around £4 billion.

Around 30 Tory MPs are hoping to use an amendment to legislation setting up the Advanced Research and Invention Agency to force the new body to make up the funding to meet the 0.7% goal.

A vote on the issue could take place on Monday if the amendment is selected by Commons Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle, with the number of Tory rebels enough to cause nervousness in the government ranks despite a comfortable working majority of 85.

Andrew Mitchell, the former international development secretary who is leading the rebellion, said the amendment was a bid to ensure Mr Johnson could travel to Cornwall to meet his G7 counterparts on Friday as “first among equals”.

Writing in the Guardian, Mr Mitchell said: “The eyes of the world are truly upon us.

Former International Development Secretary Andrew Mitchell.

“But in this moment Britain is found wanting, because we have removed a foundational piece of our own global leadership.

“Britain is the only G7 nation cutting aid this year.

“The cuts are already having a devastating effect on the ground, with projects being cancelled, clinics being closed, teachers being sacked.

“In crisis situations, these cuts will result in hundreds of thousands of preventable deaths.”

The senior Tory said “contributing our fair share of aid is essential for a successful G7 summit”, providing the bedrock for global ambitions to share the cost of vaccines and to push on with action against climate change.

Former Brexit secretary Mr Davis told BBC Radio 4’s Today that the “harmful” and “devastating” cuts would result in deaths around the world.

There will be massive cuts in efforts to provide clean water, which will kill children worldwide, and in funding for food for starving people, where “again thousands will die”, Mr Davis told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

He said: “No other G7 country is cutting its aid in this way. It is going to have devastating consequences across the world.

“Historically, I am a critic of aid spending, but doing it this way is really so harmful.”

Prime Minister Boris Johnson planS to welcome leaders from around the world to Cornwall in person for the summit. Credit: PA

He said that Germany, France and the US are leaders in spending in this area, adding “so we are not such a leader any more – in fact we are throwing away enormous influence, particularly in Africa, where there is an ideological battle with China”.

Mr Davis told the programme: “Morally, this is a devastating thing for us to have done."

The criticisms come after 1,700 charities, academics and business leaders jointly wrote to the Prime Minister to warn that the UK’s “credibility and voice on the international stage will be undermined” just as he prepares to preside over the G7 gathering, which will include his first face-to-face meeting with US President Joe Biden.

The letter, with signatories including Oxfam GB and Save The Children, said the aid cuts are a “double blow” to the world’s poorest communities in the midst of a pandemic.

The government has defended the cut saying the UK would still be investing a "very significant sum" in international aid.

Solicitor General for England and Wales, Lucy Frazer, told ITV News: "I think it is really important to recognise that last year Britain was the third biggest donor of international aid and that is critical.

Solicitor General Lucy Frazer defends the decision to cut foreign aid:

"Even with the amounts we are taking away from foreign aid, we will still be investing £10 billion this year in international aid - that's a very significant sum.

"It is important that we invest internationally but we also have to protect Britons at home."