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Boris Johnson's Controversial £4bn Aid Cut Will Go Ahead After Tory Rebellion Fails

5 min read

Boris Johnson has quelled a Tory rebellion in the Commons, after MPs vote by 333 to 298 to cut foreign aid from 0.7% to 0.5 % of national income.

The Prime Minister said the cut – which breaks a Tory manifesto commitment to spend 0.7% of Gross National Income on foreign aid – had to be made because the country is facing an “economic hurricane” and a deep recession, and the budget slashing would only be temporary.

Speaking after the vote, Chancellor Rishi Sunak said that the government will now move forwards with the reduction in aid spending but the government has compromised and does remain committed to the 0.7% target when the economic picture improves.

Among the Tory rebels was former Prime Minister Theresa May who said that the move would lead to more children ending up in slavery, as well as more deaths of the very poorest.

Of the 24 rebels, 13 had been former secretaries of state or ministers. They included former secretary of state for International Development, Andrew Mitchell, Brexit secretary David Davis, former health secretary Jeremy Hunt, former work and pensions secretary, Stephen Crabb, and former first secretary of state, Damian Green. Former prime minister David Cameron also condemned the decision today.

MPs had been asked to vote for what the government described as a compromimse agreement, where there is a reduction in spending to the aid spend from 0.7% to 0.5% of gross national income (GNI), but it will be restored when two economic tests are met. These are when the Office for Budget Responsibility confirms the government is no longer borrowing for day to day spending, and when debt is falling.

May, who said she would break the party whip for the firs time since she was elected in 1997, said the “government is turning its back on some of the poorest in the world”.

“With GNI falling, our funding for aid was reducing in any case," May said. 

“It’s about what cuts to funding mean, that fewer girls will be educated, more girls and boys will become slaves, more children will go hungry and more of the poorest people in the world will die.”

Sunak had spoken to May last night, and she told the Commons that he suggested the 0.7% could return in four to five years time but it could be even sooner.

But May was unconvinced. “I certainly doubt whether the tests will be met in five years time,” she said. 

Labour leader Keir Starmer said the motion being proposed by the government was “deliberately slippery” and he believes the new 0.5% level would carry on indefinitely.

"Every living prime minister thinks this is wrong. Only one who is prepared to do this, and he is sitting there," he told the Commons.

Former minister Damian Green told Times Radio he had heard jobs were "dangled" in front of Tory MPs to get them to vote through foreign aid cuts.

When asked by John Pienaar at Times Radio this afternoon what had been "dangled" in front of Tory MPs to stop them rebelling, he replied: "Jobs, essentially, that's what people do."

He said he hadn't got any hard evidence but added: "I've been around long enough to know how this place works."

The £4 billion aid cut has been divisive for the Tory party with up to 50 rebels at one stage predicted to be planning on voting against their own government.

However the Chancellor spent this weekend ringing around potential dissenters with fourteen Tories signing a joint letter to say they were satisfied by Sunak’s compromise.

Conservative MP Alec Shelbrooke, the UK Head of Delegation to the NATO Assembly was among the signatories. 

“There’s been an intelligent compromise which I think is a sensible way forward," he told PoliticsHome.

"This shows that when we do 0.7%, it shows we are capable of spending it.

"As soon as I heard that [Sunak] was putting a formula in place I was very comfortable."

Another potential rebel, Desmond Swayne, who signed the letter to say he now backed the Chancellor, told PoliticsHome he was picking his battles to focus on a restrain on spending overall.  

"It would be wrong for me to vote to restore the budget if I am not prepared to identify a corresponding cut or tax increase in lieu," he said. "The government has moved significantly on this.”

Opening the debate this afternoon, Johnson told the Commons that the plan was an “affordable path back to 0.7%.

“As soon as circumstances allow and the tests are met, we will return to the target that unites us,” he said. 

The government said it is still spending £10 billion on foreign aid this year. 

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