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Bishops lobby MPs to support move to restore UK aid budget

07 June 2021

Alamy

Rusting sign outside a women’s farmers club near Chikwawa, Malawi, in 2015

Rusting sign outside a women’s farmers club near Chikwawa, Malawi, in 2015

THE Archbishop of Canterbury is praying that MPs will overturn the Government’s cutting of international aid from 0.7 to 0.5 per cent of national income in the Commons today.

A group of Conservative MPs believe that they have enough support to force a U-turn on the Government if a vote is allowed on the cut, which was made last November without Parliamentary approval (News, 20 November 2020, 25 November, and 3 June; Leader comment, 19 November 2020).

Archbishop Welby posted on Twitter last night: “The foreign aid cut is indefensible. Tomorrow may offer MPs a chance to force the Government to reverse it. Let us hope and pray this happens, and that our unconscionable broken promise to the world’s poorest people is put right.” He appended the hashtag #globalBritain.

Britain’s reputation in the world was at stake, the former Brexit Minister David Davis MP said on Today on Radio 4. “We have been a leader in aid. . . We’re throwing away enormous influence, particularly in Africa, where there’s an ideological battle with China. . .

As a result of the cuts, he said, “Thousands will die, large numbers of them children.”

The Government has always said that the cut is temporary, and some of its critics might accept a compromise if an end date is announced. This was not good enough for Mr Davis, however. “If you’re a small child and suddenly you get dirty water, you get an infection from it and you die, temporary doesn’t mean much. . .

“If you’re going to kill people with this, which I think is going to be the outcome in many areas, we need to reverse those immediately.”

Gordon Brown, the former Prime Minister, told BBC Breakfast: “We’re about to get a huge payment from the International Monetary Fund of $23 billion that covers this cut six times over. So it makes absolutely no economic sense, but particularly no moral sense.”

There were few indications that the Government intended to compromise, however. The Times reported that Conservative Whips had been putting pressure on the Speaker of the Commons, Sir Lindsey Hoyle, to refuse MPs the chance to append a amendment on aid to the Advanced Research and Invention Agency (ARIA) Bill, which is the mechanism that they have chosen to bring the matter on to the floor of the Commons. There is even talk of withdrawing the Bill altogether.

Bishops have been writing to MPs whose constituencies are in their dioceses, urging them to back the MPs’ move. Among those doing this are the Bishop of Truro, the Rt Revd Philip Mounstephen, and the Bishop of Norwich, the Rt Revd Graham Usher. The latter wrote on Twitter: “As we host the G7 now is the time to show moral leadership & renew the manifesto commitment made to the electorate.”

The Bishop of Southwark, the Rt Revd Christopher Chessun, said that it was the first time that he had ever asked his MPs to vote in a particular way.

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