Government braced for Tory rebellion on aid cuts

Boris Johnson faces a showdown with Tory rebels over his cut in aid spending.

MPs will vote on Tuesday on the Government’s decision to cut funding for official development assistance (ODA) from 0.7% of gross national income to 0.5%.

The commitment to 0.7% is written in law and was restated in the 2019 Conservative manifesto, but was ditched as the Government attempted to save money in response to the economic carnage caused by coronavirus.

The 0.5% level means £10 billion will be spent on aid this year, about £4 billion less than if the original commitment had been kept.

The move has met fierce resistance on the Conservative benches, with former prime minister Theresa May and ex-international development secretary Andrew Mitchell among prominent opponents of the cut.

On Tuesday MPs will vote on a statement from Chancellor Rishi Sunak setting out that the 0.7% target will only be restored if the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) believes the UK is not borrowing to finance day-to-day spending and underlying debt is falling.

Shadow international development secretary Preet Kaur Gill said: “Labour opposes this shameful attempt by the Government to weasel out of their commitments to supporting the world’s poorest and most vulnerable during a global pandemic.

“The Chancellor’s proposal would lead to an indefinite cut to the aid budget and is not in our national interest.

“Cuts to international aid will leave the very poorest weaker in the fight against the threats of poverty, climate change and the current pandemic.

“In return this will have a negative impact on the Government’s ability to keep our country safe and secure, and limit our ability to fight the Covid-19 pandemic and climate change.”

Mr Mitchell warned his colleagues not to be “hoodwinked” by Mr Sunak’s statement on the conditions for the return to 0.7%, arguing it was a “fiscal trap”.

He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “It is, frankly, staggering that the only cut the Government has made is to spending to help the poorest people on the planet in the middle of a pandemic, when this amounts to approximately 1% of the borrowing on Covid in the last year.”

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Mr Mitchell said he would rebel, telling Times Radio: “I think I’ve only rebelled against my own party and government about three times in the 34 years since I was first elected to the House of Commons, but I shall do so today with conviction and with enthusiasm, because I think it’s the most terrible thing to break our promise.”

The Government has said a defeat on the motion on Tuesday would result in a return to 0.7% spending in 2022, with Mr Sunak warning that would be likely to have “consequences for the fiscal situation, including for taxation and current public spending plans”.

Tory MP for Thanet Sir Roger Gale said: “I shall vote today to honour our election pledge, uphold the law and restore our overseas aid spending to just 0.7% of a reduced gross national income.”

But Tory former Cabinet minister Dame Andrea Leadsom, writing in the Daily Telegraph, backed the “compromise” put forward by the Treasury.

“By working together to develop this compromise, I’m confident that we can move forward and focus on the overwhelmingly positive action we take in supporting the world’s most vulnerable,” she said.

Former foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt said he wants reassurance that there will be a return to 0.7% spending in a “reasonable timetable”.

He told Times Radio: “We do need to reverse this cut to the foreign aid budget.

“I want to look at what the Government’s alternative is, before finally deciding. The thing I want to understand – which I’m not clear about – is when this means we will return (to 0.7%).”

Treasury Chief Secretary Stephen Barclay told Today the economy is “bouncing back better than previously forecast”, in response to a suggestion it could be four or five years before the tests are met to allow the 0.7% target to be reinstated.

“This was a test that was met in 2018/19, so what we are saying is, this is a test that has been met in the past, this is a test that will be determined independently through the measures that the OBR set out, and that the direction of travel, the trajectory, is very positive,” he said.