Boris Johnson hit the phones today in a last-ditch effort to avoid a major Commons defeat on aid cuts at the hands of 30 or more Conservative rebels.
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The Standard learned that the Prime Minster was calling some Tory MPs in person to ask them not to back a rebel vote that would force the Government to restore spending to the legal minimum of 0.7 per cent of national output. n
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Chancellor Rishi Sunak called potential rebels yesterday but leaders of the revolt claimed MPs were standing firm.
The PM’s personal intervention came despite reports that Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle was poised to pull the plug on tonight’s landmark vote by ruling it “out of scope” of the legislation to which it is attached.
Some MPs claimed reports that Commons officials were advising against the vote as an attempt by Tory whips to “bounce” the Speaker.
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Senior rebels piled pressure on the Government to give way, with former Cabinet minister David Davis warning that “thousands will die, large numbers of them children” if the cuts are not reversed.
Former Labour prime minister Gordon Brown weighed in, saying: “It’s a life-and-death issue, we’re deciding who lives and who dies.”
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Government whips were hoping Sir Lindsay will rule that the rebel amendment should not be called to a vote because it is tagged onto government legislation needed to set up an Advanced Research and Invention Agency.
If passed, the vote would instruct the Government to restore the aid budget from January 1 from its reduced level of 0.5 per cent. Andrew Mitchell, the former Tory chief whip and ringleader of the rebels, told the Standard: “This aid cut is immoral, unethical and almost certainly illegal so members of Parliament on all sides feel strongly that it must be put to a vote.”
Mr Davis, the former Brexit secretary, said 10 million people faced losing access to clean water.
“No other G7 country is cutting its aid in this way,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme. “It is going to have devastating consequences across the world.”
Mr Brown told BBC Breakfast: “If we withdraw the money for vaccination, it’s the equivalent of pulling away the needle from a kid or from an adult who is sick who needs the vaccination.”
He warned the Government not to pay for Covid vaccinations for poor countries by taking more money away from the reduced aid budget.
A senior minister promised that the cuts would be “temporary” without spelling out what that would mean.
Solicitor General Lucy Frazer told Times Radio Covid had forced the Government to make “tough decisions and that’s why we’ve said we’ll temporarily reduce the amount that we’ll spend”.
Ms Frazer said the Government would continue to support international efforts but financial support was also needed in Britain. “We have issues that we need to support here... and that is what we need to do at the moment.”
She emphasised that Britain was the third biggest aid giver even after the cuts.
Former Tory work and pensions secretary Stephen Crabb announced on Twitter: “I will vote in favour of the 0.7 aid commitment today… Important & high quality work is being slashed at worst possible time.”
For Labour’s front bench, shadow foreign secretary Lisa Nandy has said aid cuts were “short-sighted” and that they are not in Britain’s interest. “The Government is making a real mistake, they’re about to go into the most important week in many, many months, the G7, with a major plank of global Britain in tatters,” she told Sky News.