Foreign aid vote denied to Tory rebels as MPs bid to reverse cuts

7 June 2021, 16:09 | Updated: 7 June 2021, 19:35

UK aid spending is set to be cut by the Government
UK aid spending is set to be cut by the Government. Picture: PA

By Will Taylor

A vote on foreign aid spending is not set be held on Monday in a blow to Tory rebels hoping to reverse the cuts.

Conservative MPs had hoped to stop the Government's decision to reduce spending from the legally-enshrined 0.7% of national income by passing an amendment on a bill.

Former Prime Minister Theresa May and ex-cabinet ministers Andrew Mitchell and David Davis are among those who hoped to secure a u-turn.

However, an emergency debate on the issue, lasting up to three hours, will be held tomorrow though its result will not be binding on the Government.

In a statement on Monday, Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle said the Tory rebel amendment on overseas aid "may not be debated" as it is "outside the scope of the Bill", which the Government wants passed to establish a new research agency.

The speaker added that the Government is legally obliged to keep aid at 0.7% of national income.

"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," he said.

The Speaker added he is open to hearing applications for an emergency debate on the issue, and one will now take place on Tuesday.

Opponents of reducing aid spending fear the impact it will have on poorer countries, the damage it could do to the UK's reputation and whether it could open the door to countries like China, who could use a spending vacuum to grow influence.

Mr Mitchell previously 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".

Speaking in the Commons on Monday, he said: "The Government frontbench is treating the House of Commons with disrespect.

"They are avoiding a vote on the commitments that each of us made individually and collectively at the last general election, on a promise made internationally, and in the opinion of some of Britain's leading lawyers the Government is acting unlawfully.

"Had we secured a vote on the new clause tonight, I can assure the House it would have secured the assent of the House by not less than a majority of nine and probably of around 20 votes.

"In the week of the British chairmanship of the G7, the Government's failure to address this issue will indisputably mean that hundreds of thousands of avoidable deaths will result."

Boris Johnson cut aid to 0.5% of national income and his ministers say it is only temporary, with the nation's finances needing to recover from the coronavirus pandemic.

The 0.7% figure also featured in the Conservative manifesto in 2019. Slashing it to 0.5% is expected to save about £4 billion.

Read more: Children will 'suffer the consequences', Unicef warns as UK cuts funding

Read more: Aid to China slashed by 95% in overseas assistance cuts

However, about 30 Tory MPs, led by ex-international development secretary Mr Mitchell, had hoped to amend a bill setting up the Advanced Research and Invention Agency.

The amendment would force the agency, which is designed to support innovative new projects, to make up the funding to meet the 0.7% goal.

Had the amendment been selected by Commons Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle, it could have been voted on by MPs.

The rebellion does not appear to have been big enough to overturn Mr Johnson's 85-seat working majority.

But it comes as he hosts leaders at the G7 summit in Cornwall this week.

Key Labour figures including Lisa Nandy, the shadow foreign secretary, and ex-prime minister Gordon Brown, have strongly criticised Mr Johnson's move.

About 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" as he prepares to preside over the G7 gathering, which will include his first face-to-face meeting with US president Joe Biden.

The Prime Minister's official spokesman said Boris Johnson would set out more details on sharing surplus doses with developing nations at the G7 summit in Cornwall this week.

"As is standard, any funding that benefits poverty reduction in developing countries would count as ODA (Official Development Assistance) funding," he added.