Boris Johnson sees off Tory revolt as MPs back £4 billion cut to foreign aid

·4-min read
Boris Johnson sees off Tory revolt as MPs back £4 billion cut to foreign aid

The Government has backed a colossal £4 billion cut to the foreign aid budget in response to increased pandemic spending.

Boris Johnson survived a Tory revolt over the proposed cuts which saw his predecessor Theresa May warn that some of the world’s poorest will die as a result of the slashed spending.

MPs voted 333 to 298 at the House of Commons on Tuesday, with a majority of 35 to back the reduced level of aid funding.

It comes despite efforts to warn Tory rebels not to fall into a “trap” set by the Government as it attempted to see off the revolt.

The motion includes a new test which critics warned could mean spending never returns to its target of 0.7 per cent of gross national income.

However, Chancellor Rishi Sunak described the new policy as a “genuine compromise” that could help the Government to keep its promise in the long term.

Speaking after the result, Mr Sunak said: “I recognise the passion and conviction with which many members spoke today in favour of the 0.7 per cent target, members who voted both for and against the Government’s motion.

“Whilst not every member felt able to vote for the Government’s compromise, the substantive matter of whether we remain committed to the 0.7 per cent target not just now but for decades to come is clearly a point of significant unity in this House.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak (AP)
Chancellor Rishi Sunak (AP)

“The vote has made that commitment more secure for the long term whilst helping the Government to fix the problems with our public finances and continue to deliver for our constituents today.”

Arguing against the cuts, shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves had urged the House that the proposed cuts would mean a “savage” 30% reduction to foreign aid spending in just one year.

"Our country's commitments are as a proportion of our gross national income and that is right," she said.

“It means that as our economy grows, our generosity as a country grows but as our economy shrinks so does our generosity to those in the poorest parts of the world.

"The simplicity of the 0.7 per cent commitment is built into the formula. With a 30 per cent reduction in just one year never has our aid budget been cut so savagely, so suddenly and by so much."

Many Tory MPs had expressed their fury at the reduction from 0.7 per cent of national income to 0.5 per cent, arguing the 0.7 figure was a commitment in their 2019 manifesto.

In a surprise move, MPs were given the chance to vote to restore it to 0.7 per cent when two fiscal targets are met.

These are when the Office for Budget Responsibility confirms the government is no longer borrowing for day-to-day spending and when underlying debt is falling.

It comes after the Government backed down on allowing a vote on the cut after the Speaker said the House of Commons must have a say.

However, Conservative MP Andrew Mitchell warned the Government’s olive branch was a “fiscal trap” and called on rebels to stand firm.

Asked if the concession helped the rebels’ position, he told Times Radio: “No, because the problem is that the Treasury’s conditions amount to a fiscal trap.

“Because if you look at what they are proposing we would only have agreed to the 0.7 once in the last 20 years.

“The 0.7 is a tremendous investment in our own security and our own prosperity just as it is in the security and prosperity of those of the poorest people in the world who we are seeking to help.”

MPs were faced with two options:

  • To defeat the Government and restore aid spending to 0.7 per cent by January 2022

  • To support it and ensure spending is increased in line with borrowing and debt

Mr Sunak and Boris Johnson spent the last 48 hours hitting the phones and meeting Tory MPs in a bid to find a way through the row, according to Politico London Playbook.

It was thought the rebels could number up to 50 Tory MPs and include former Prime Minister Theresa May.

However, a number of them were understood to have been brought on side by the Government’s compromise.

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