Theresa May backs Tory rebel bid to force Boris Johnson into aid spending U-turn

·3-min read

Former prime minister Theresa May has backed a growing bid by Conservative rebels to force Boris Johnson to reverse his widely-criticised cuts to foreign aid.

His Conservative predecessor heaped pressure on the Prime Minister to avert a Commons revolt as the number of Tory MPs to back a rebel amendment doubled to 30.

Mrs May’s former deputy Damian Green and Johnny Mercer, who recently resigned as defence minister, also added their names to an amendment led by former international development secretary Andrew Mitchell.

Mr Johnson has been criticised across the political spectrum for temporarily reducing foreign aid from 0.7% of national income to 0.5%, breaking a manifesto commitment.

British troops deliver aid on Grand Turk in the Turks and Caicos Islands, a British overseas territory affected by the wrath of Hurricane Irma (Georgina Stubbs/PA)
British troops deliver aid on Grand Turk in the Turks and Caicos Islands, a British overseas territory affected by the wrath of Hurricane Irma (Georgina Stubbs/PA)

Mr Mitchell has tabled an amendment to the Advanced Research and Invention Agency (Aria) Bill, a piece of legislation which establishes a new “high-risk, high-reward” research agency backed with £800 million of taxpayers’ cash to explore new ideas.

The amendment, if selected by Commons Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle and approved by a majority of MPs, would force the Government to make up any shortfall below the 0.7% foreign aid spending target.

Mr Mitchell said: “More and more of my colleagues in the House of Commons are supporting this move to to stand by our manifesto promise.

“With our economy returning to growth, there is no justification for balancing the books on the backs of the world’s poor.

“With G7 leaders coming to Britain next week, there is an opportunity for us to reclaim our rightful place on the global stage.

“Britain’s national interest is not being served by the devastating impact these cuts are already having on the ground and the unnecessary loss of hundreds of thousands of innocent lives. We urge the Government to think again.”

The Government has blamed economic damage caused by the Covid-19 pandemic for its aid decision.

But critics in the aid sector have warned it will result in tens of thousands of deaths in other parts of the world.

Jeremy Hunt
Former health secretary Jeremy Hunt is among those who backed the amendment (Jacob King/PA)

Senior Conservatives to back the amendment include former health secretary Jeremy Hunt, ex-Brexit secretary David Davis and former Welsh secretary Stephen Crabb, as well as father of the House Sir Peter Bottomley.

Others include select committee chairs such as Caroline Nokes, Tom Tugendhat, Karen Bradley and Tobias Ellwood.

The amendment is also collecting support from the Labour benches, with signatories so far including International Development Committee chair Sarah Champion and Public Accounts Committee chair Meg Hillier.

The Bill returns to the Commons for further consideration on Monday.

A Government spokeswoman said: “In 2021 we will spend more than £10 billion to improve global health, fight poverty and tackle climate change.

“While the seismic impact of the pandemic has forced us to take tough but necessary decisions, the Government is committed to returning to spending 0.7% of GNI (gross national income) on aid when the fiscal situation allows.”

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