Boris Johnson is facing a growing Tory backlash over plans to cut the international aid budget as part of a sweeping Spending Review aimed at dealing with the economic impact of the coronavirus crisis.
A number of prominent Conservatives publicly expressed concern at the move – which formed part of the party's manifesto – as the Government's economic forecasts were questioned by some economists.
The overseas aid cut was announced by Chancellor Rishi Sunak as one of a number of measures intended to help cope with the economy contracting by an expected 11.3% this year.
The Prime Minister and Mr Sunak addressed a virtual meeting of the 1922 Committee of Tory backbench MPs on Wednesday night to try and firm up support for their approach.
Former foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt and ex-prime minister David Cameron, were among those criticising the plans to cut overseas aid from 0.7% to 0.5% of gross national income (GNI).
Pictures of the week: November 22 - 28
Pictures of the week: November 22 - 28
Artist Sian Bliss poses inside her installation named 'Aurora Arbour', towering above her is London's tallest LED Christmas tree featuring 100,000 lights, at the launch of Wembley Park's Christmas display, 'United in Light', Thursday Nov. 26, 2020. Bliss has based the design on the movements of a winter night's sky. (David Parry/PA via AP)
Fans stand atop a car to look over the boundary wall, watching the action during the English FA Cup first round match Barrow against Wimbledon, at the Progression Solicitors Stadium in Barrow, England, Thursday Nov. 26, 2020. (Zac Goodwin/PA via AP)
A plaque showing Argentina's Diego Maradona outside the National Football Museum in Manchester, England, Thursday Nov. 26, 2020. Tens of thousands of fans were lining up to say goodbye to Diego Maradona on Thursday at the Argentine presidential mansion staging the funeral of one of football's greatest stars. Maradona died on Wednesday of a heart attack where he recovered from a brain operation on Nov. 3. (AP Photo/Jon Super)
People gather to look out as the sun sets, by Chesterton Windmill, England, Thursday Nov. 26, 2020. The 17th-century cylindric stone tower Chesterton Windmill forms a striking landmark in the plain landscape. (Jacob King/PA via AP)
A man walks past a Stay Alert Save lives Rainbow sign in Soho during the second lockdown.
London will be placed in tier 2 restrictions when England�s national lockdown comes to an end as all not essential shops will be closed until 2nd December. (Photo by Pietro Recchia / SOPA Images/Sipa USA)
A Christmas lights sculpture stands backdropped by Tower Bridge, during England's second coronavirus lockdown, Thursday, Nov. 26, 2020. The visual effects in blue and white are to thank National Health Service (NHS) and key workers for all they did during this year's coronavirus outbreak. (AP Photo/Matt Dunham)
Supporters of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange take part in a protest outside Westminster Magistrates Court in London, to support him in a administrative hearing for his extradition case, Thursday, Nov. 26, 2020. Assange was unable to attend or appear by video link today due to a COVID-19 outbreak at Belmarsh prison where he is being held. (AP Photo/Matt Dunham)
Two 16ft illuminated Marmots, 'Marmite' (left) and 'Meribel', which have been erected outside the Assembly Rooms in Alton, Hampshire, as part of the town's MarmART trail. (Photo by Andrew Matthews/PA Images via Getty Images)
Pro EU campaigners during a protest against a Brexit no deal near Parliament in London, Wednesday, Nov. 25, 2020. The European Union has committed to be "creative" in the final stages of the Brexit trade negotiations but warned that whatever deal emerges, the United Kingdom will be reduced to "just a valued partner," far removed from its former membership status. (AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth)
London taxi driver Michael Harris, dressed as Santa Claus, who said he was in hospital with coronavirus for three weeks earlier in the year, poses for photographs in his cab parked outside Burlington Arcade, during England's second coronavirus lockdown in London, Wednesday, Nov. 25, 2020. With major COVID-19 vaccines showing high levels of protection, British officials are cautiously — and they stress cautiously — optimistic that life may start returning to normal by early April. (AP Photo/Matt Dunham)
Christmas lights are lit up at the Ritz London.
People are getting ready to go back to the 3 tiers system when a four-week lockdown in England comes to an end next week. (Photo by Pietro Recchia / SOPA Images/Sipa USA)
Larry the Cat sits in Downing Street, London. (Photo by Kirsty O'Connor/PA Images via Getty Images)
A person takes a photo of the skyline with the Shard building in the center, at sunset, from Greenwich Park in London, Tuesday, Nov. 24, 2020. (Yui Mok/PA via AP)
Christmas lights are lit up on New Bond Street in Mayfair, London, Tuesday, Nov. 24, 2020. Haircuts, shopping trips and visits to the pub will be back on the agenda for millions of people when a four-week lockdown in England comes to an end next week, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said Monday. (AP Photo/Alberto Pezzali)
GREAT MISSENDEN, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 24: A weather vane on a farm building close to the HS2 line on November 24, 2020 in Great Missenden, England. HS2 protesters continue to occupy key infrastructure sites along the proposed HS2 route claiming that the project is 'the most carbon-intensive and environmentally destructive project in UK history.' (Photo by Jim Dyson/Getty Images)
PRESTON, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 24: Tyrhys Dolan of Blackburn Rovers celebrates after scoring their sides third goal during the Sky Bet Championship match between Preston North End and Blackburn Rovers at Deepdale on November 24, 2020 in Preston, England. Sporting stadiums around the UK remain under strict restrictions due to the Coronavirus Pandemic as Government social distancing laws prohibit fans inside venues resulting in games being played behind closed doors. (Photo by Nathan Stirk/Getty Images)
The Elizabeth Tower, which contains the bell known as the Big Ben, emerges from the trees in Westminster, in London, Tuesday, Nov. 24, 2020. Haircuts, shopping trips and visits to the pub will be back on the agenda for millions of people when a four-week lockdown in England comes to an end next week, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said Monday. (AP Photo/Alberto Pezzali)
BURNLEY, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 23: Burnley gnomes are seen in a house outside Turf Moor ahead of the Premier League match between Burnley and Crystal Palace at Turf Moor on November 23, 2020 in Burnley, England. Sporting stadiums around the UK remain under strict restrictions due to the Coronavirus Pandemic as Government social distancing laws prohibit fans inside venues resulting in games being played behind closed doors. (Photo by James Gill - Danehouse/Getty Images)
The 'Terrarium Tree' in Coal Drops Yard, which forms part of the King's Cross neighbourhood of London's unconventional 'traditionally untraditional' Christmas tree installations, stands illuminated during England's second coronavirus lockdown, Monday, Nov. 23, 2020. Haircuts, shopping trips and visits to the pub will be back on the agenda for millions of people when a four-week lockdown in England comes to an end next week, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said Monday. (AP Photo/Matt Dunham)
Kelly Brook seen departing The Heart Radio Studios In London while holding flowers on her 41st Birthday dressed with an Emily in Paris theme. (Photo by Brett Cove / SOPA Images/Sipa USA)
Christmas trees adorn the Churchill Arms pub in Kensington, London, which is closed as England continues a four week national lockdown to curb the spread of coronavirus. (Photo by Yui Mok/PA Images via Getty Images)
A woman wearing a mask because of the coronavirus pandemic walks past masks displayed on mannequins in the window of a closed shop in Canterbury, southern England on November 23, 2020. - British Prime Minister Boris Johnson was to announce on Monday a major testing programme in areas with the highest coronavirus infection rates as the country re-enters a system of tiered restrictions. (Photo by Ben STANSALL / AFP) (Photo by BEN STANSALL/AFP via Getty Images)
New cars in a compound near Sheerness in Kent, negotiations between the UK and European Union on a post-Brexit trade deal have resumed, but ÒfundamentalÓ differences remain between the two sides. (Photo by Gareth Fuller/PA Images via Getty Images)
Pedestrians wearing face masks due to the COVID-19 pandemic, walk past Christmas-themed window displays inside Burlington Arcade in central London, on November 23, 2020. - Prime Minister Boris Johnson's latest plan is to roll out mass testing to the hardest-hit areas, hoping to make enough inroads to be able to relax social restrictions in time for Christmas. (Photo by Tolga Akmen / AFP) (Photo by TOLGA AKMEN/AFP via Getty Images)
CARDIFF, WALES, UNITED KINGDOM - NOVEMBER 23, 2020 - The Christmas market in Cardiff city centre as Welsh Government announces that tighter coronavirus restrictions could be implemented in Wales in the run-up to Christmas, aligning Wales with other parts of the UK. PHOTOGRAPH BY Mark Hawkins / Barcroft Studios / Future Publishing (Photo credit should read Mark Hawkins/Barcroft Media via Getty Images)
Magpies and crows surround a resting stag on the Ashton Court Estate, Bristol, England, Monday Nov. 23, 2020, during cold, crisp autumnal weather. (Ben Birchall/PA via AP)
Daniil Medvedev of Russia holds up the winners trophy as confetti falls after defeating Dominic Thiem of Austria in the final of the ATP World Finals tennis match at the ATP World Finals tennis tournament at the O2 arena in London, Sunday, Nov. 22, 2020. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein)
A pallet of changing colours as the sky lights up before sunrise at St Mary's Lighthouse in Whitley Bay, Tyne and Wear on the North East coast. (Photo by Owen Humphreys/PA Images via Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 22: In this image released on November 22, Dua Lipa performs onstage for the 2020 American Music Awards, broadcast on November 22, 2020 London, England. (Photo by Gareth Cattermole/Getty Images for dcp)
People walking on Tynemouth beach, as England continues a four week national lockdown to curb the spread of coronavirus, in Tyne and Wear, England, Sunday, Nov. 22, 2020. (Owen Humphreys/PA via AP)
Discover More Like This
BACK TO SLIDE
The GNI in 2019 was £2.17 trillion, meaning a drop from 0.7% to 0.5% would account for more than £4 billion.
It prompted Foreign Office minister Baroness Sugg to quit in protest and, in her resignation letter to Mr Johnson, she called it the "fundamentally wrong" move, telling the Prime Minister it would "diminish our power to influence other nations to do what is right".
Other Tories critical of the move included former international development secretary Andrew Mitchell and chairman of the Commons defence committee Tobias Ellwood.
Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby said it was "shameful and wrong" while Mr Mitchell said it would be "the cause of 100,000 preventable deaths, mainly among children".
Mr Ellwood warned China and Russia are likely to extend their "authoritarian influence" as a result of the "vacuum" created by the UK "downgrading" its soft power programmes.
Mr Sunak said the 0.5% equated to around £10 billion in aid and defended the cut, adding: "Sticking rigidly to spending 0.7% of our national income on overseas aid is difficult to justify to the British people, especially when we're seeing the highest peacetime levels of borrowing on record."
The Chancellor earlier said the economy was not scheduled to recover to pre-crisis levels until the end of 2022.
Emergency measures will see the Government borrow £394 billion this year, which amounts to 19% of Gross Domestic Product (GDP), a measure of the size of the economy – the highest ever recorded in peacetime.
However, head of the Institute for Fiscal Policy (IFS) Paul Johnson questioned whether even more borrowing than that signalled by the Government would be needed.
He Tweeted: "SR (Spending Review) assumes zero spending on Covid after next year. It assumes Universal Credit is cut in April. It assumes non-Covid spending will be £10bn p.a. less than expected in March. Not sure any of these will happen. Implying quite a lot more borrowing even than the £100bn forecast."
Mr Sunak said the Government had to make firm decisions as Britain faced its biggest downturn for 300 years, with unemployment set to hit 2.6 million by the middle of 2021, according to official forecasts from the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR).
The "long-term scarring" from the crisis means that in 2025 the economy will still be around 3% smaller than had been expected in March this year, Mr Sunak told MPs.
Mr Sunak also announced what amounted to a pay freeze for an estimated 1.3 million public sector workers.
NHS workers will be spared the "pause" in wage rises, and those earning below £24,000 will receive at least £250 extra.
The Chancellor said: "Our health emergency is not yet over. And our economic emergency has only just begun."
Mr Sunak also used the statement to stress that £280 billion was being spent on the coronavirus response this year.
He said that next year some £55 billion was being targeted at public services dealing with the crisis, including an initial £18 billion for testing, personal protective equipment and vaccines.
The Chancellor also promised extra help as part of the Government's "levelling up" agenda, with a new £4 billion fund available for projects across the country which have support of local communities and politicians.
Shadow chancellor Anneliese Dodds condemned the pay freeze for public sector workers and claimed the Spending Review "takes a sledgehammer to consumer confidence".