PM cutting foreign aid budget would be 'very bad move', senior Tory warns

7 June 2021, 07:50 | Updated: 7 June 2021, 11:03

By Joe Cook

Boris Johnson is facing strong opposition from within the Conservative Party over his plan to cut the foreign aid budget.

Tory rebels were lining up to vote against the government on Monday in an effort to stop plans to cut the funding from 0.7 percent of Gross National Income to 0.5 percent - reducing spending by around £4 billion.

However, the prime minister appears for now to have survived a rebellion as the vote will no longer be going ahead amid reports that the amendment tabled is "completely out of scope".

Senior Conservative MP Andrew Mitchell told LBC's Swarbrick on Sunday that the government is making "a very bad move" in breaking an election promise by cutting the budget in the middle of a pandemic.

The 0.7 percent figure has been enshrined in law since 2015, but Chancellor Rishi Sunak said the cuts are necessary at a time of "domestic fiscal emergency".

Some Tories said they were "cautiously optimistic" about forcing the government to reverse its decision, with 30 backbenchers - including former Prime Minister Theresa May - among the rebellion.

Mr Mitchell told LBC that "it would be fair to say there is probably a majority in the House of Commons who think this is the wrong thing to do".

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A successful revolt would have been the first time Boris Johnson faced defeat in the House of Commons since his election win in December 2020.

Mr Mitchell slammed ministers for diverging from Britain's core values, adding: "We want the government to stick by the promise and we believe it is wrong to balance the books on the backs of the poorest people in the world. That is not what Britain does, that is not Britain's values."

However, the former international development secretary and chief whip, who is leading the group of disgruntled MPs, pushed back against the suggestion that they were rebels.

"Let's be clear that we are not really the rebels. The government and every single member of Parliament promised at the last election, just 18 months ago, that we would stand by the commitment to the poorest people in the world of spending 0.7 percent of our Gross National Income on development and aid, and particularly on humanitarian aid.

"The government has broken that promise, broken that commitment and has not put it to the House of Commons."

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He continued: "Politicians are not enormously respected across the country, nor probably should they be in a democracy, but if you promise something in a manifesto you should think very, very carefully about breaking that promise.

"We are also breaking it in the middle of the most catastrophic crisis, which affects the whole world, of the pandemic. To break the promise at a time that we know very well that the pandemic won't be resolved until it is solved everywhere, it won't be resolved for us until it is resolved everywhere, is a very bad move indeed."

On Monday, Minister for Prisons and Probation Lucy Frazer told LBC she is supportive of foreign aid but the government "has to consider the times that we are in".

"We've spent £407 billion supporting the country through the pandemic, whether that's in terms of the NHS or supporting individual businesses, and so I do think it's appropriate to look again at how much we give to support foreign aid.

"So I do think it's appropriate to have reduced that temporarily."

Mr Mitchell also told Tom that the planned cuts to humanitarian aid risk undermining Britain's ability to chair the G7 meeting of rich nations next week.

"It is very difficult for our country to chair the G7 at this critical moment where this money is really needed where everyone else is increasing or maintaining their spending and where we are cutting it.

"We have made a commitment for 0.7, we should live by that commitment and other countries too should live by that commitment and Britain should be leading the way and make sure others do that as well. But we can't do that if we break our promise here in Britain.

"Over the last 20 years, egregious levels of poverty around the world have been greatly reduced. Far, far more women go to school, there is far, far more clean water...We cannot as a country and as a society turn out backs on that. The truth is it is part of the British instinct and part of the British value not to do so."