Foreign aid rebellion in Commons fails as Speaker decides not to select amendment

What is the foreign aid row about and why was the government facing a rebellion? ITV News Political Editor Robert Peston explains

Boris Johnson has escaped the potential of an immediate Commons defeat after a rebel amendment designed to reverse the government's cuts to overseas aid was not selected for consideration by the Speaker.

Sir Lindsay Hoyle, in a statement, said the Tory rebel amendment on overseas aid "may not be debated" on Monday as it is "outside the scope of the Bill".

He added: "As we all know, the government has, through our standing orders, significant control over the business the House considers on any given day, and its control is particularly strong when it comes to the initiation of public expenditure.

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"Under the International Development (Official Development Assistance Target) Act 2015, it is the duty of the Secretary of State to ensure that the target for official development assistance to amount to 0.7% of gross national income is met by the United Kingdom each year.

"Up 'til now, however, the House has not had an opportunity for a decisive vote on maintaining the UK's commitment to the statutory target of 0.7%.

"I expect that the government should find a way to have this important matter debated and to allow the House formally to take an effective decision."

The Speaker added he is open to hearing applications for an emergency debate on the issue, which could take place on Tuesday

The prime minister’s predecessor Theresa May, and former Cabinet ministers Andrew Mitchell and David Davis were 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 Mitchell, one of the leaders of the rebellion, told ITV News that this would not be the end of the opposition to the cut.

He said: "There's so many of us in parliament who want to see us stand by our commitments and stand by the law and stand by what we have promised that the pressure will be very great.

"Had the Speaker called the amendment tonight, we would have won by at least nine votes and probably by twenty."

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.

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.