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Rebellion expected in Commons on overseas-aid spending

03 June 2021


The revolt is being led by a former Secretary of State for International Development, Andrew Mitchell, seen here in 2016

The revolt is being led by a former Secretary of State for International Development, Andrew Mitchell, seen here in 2016

FOUR former Conservative Cabinet ministers and the chairs of eight Commons select committees are expected to rebel against the Government and vote to reinstate the 0.7-per-cent target for overseas-aid spending.

The revolt is being led by a former International Development Secretary Andrew Mitchell, who argued last year that the cut would “drive a horse and cart through many of the plans that the British Government has so strongly supported for eliminating poverty”. On Wednesday, he tabled an amendment to the Advanced Research and Invention Agency Bill to reinstate the target.

“Every single member of the House of Commons was elected on a very clear manifesto promise to stand by this commitment,” he said. “We have repeatedly urged the Government to obey the law and implored ministers to reconsider breaking this commitment.”

In November, the Chancellor, Rishi Sunak, announced during his spending review that the UK would reduce temporarily the amount that it spent on overseas aid from 0.7 per cent of gross national income (GNI) to 0.5 per cent (News, 27 November).

He told MPs: “During a domestic fiscal emergency, when we need to prioritise our limited resources on jobs and public services, sticking rigidly to spending 0.7 per cent of our national income on overseas aid is difficult to justify to the British people, especially when we’re seeing the highest peace-time levels of borrowing on record.”

Mr Mitchell’s amendment has been signed by 17 MPs including David Davis, Jeremy Hunt and Karen Bradley and the chairs of the select committees for foreign affairs, defence, international development, environment food and rural affairs, public accounts, women and equalities, health, and procedure. It is expected to be backed by 30 Conservative MPs, including the former Prime Minister Theresa May.

The Speaker will decide whether to include the amendment for selection when the Bill is debated on Monday. Other rebels include Sir Peter Bottomley, the Father of the House, and Sir Desmond Swayne, a former development minister.

The Archbishop of Canterbury and other bishops joined hundreds of charities and five former prime ministers in opposing the cut last year (News, 20 November 2020, 27 November 2020), describing it as “shameful and wrong”. He has described the 0.7-per-cent of spending as “one of the great moral and ethical achievements of this country and cross party over the last ten years” (News, 27 November 2020), and expressed doubt about the Government’s assertion that the cut was temporary (News, 4 December 2020). The General Synod called last year for the cut to be reversed.

When the Government passed the International Development (Official Development Assistance Target) Act 2015 (News, 12 December 2014), the UK became one of the few countries in the world to enshrine in law a commitment to the 0.7-per-cent target, originally suggested by the UN in the 1970s. It first achieved the target in 2013. Last year, the UK was one of only seven countries reporting to the OECD that they had met it. The 2015 Act stipulates that, if the target is missed, the Government must report to Parliament explaining, and may cite any relevant economic or fiscal circumstances and their impact on the UK economy or the public finances.

On Thursday, Sir Tony Baldry, a former Second Church Estates Commissioner and Conservative MP, said: “Even 0.7 per cent means spending less than a penny in the pound of public spending on seeking to support the poorest people in the world. Britain’s development programmes are amongst the best in the world and cutting the UKs aid budget is short sighted and mean spirited.”

Christian Aid’s UK advocacy and policy lead, Jennifer Larbie, said on Thursday: “Cutting the aid budget is not just about pulling vital funding from lifesaving programmes and leaving the most vulnerable to fend for themselves in the middle of a pandemic.

“It is also a matter of social justice. We must honour our promise to the people living in poverty due to our unequal global economy. These cuts are already having a huge impact on important projects around the world. Spending 0.7 per cent isn’t too much to ask of the sixth largest economy in the world. We strongly urge MPs from all parties to support this amendment and uphold the 0.7-per-cent commitment.”

The Government has argued that the UK will remain the second most generous aid donor in the G7. It is estimated that spending will fall from £14.5 million in 2020 to £10.9 billion this year. Although, earlier this year, figures were leaked that suggested drastic cuts of more than half to aid programmes in South Sudan, Syria, and other countries, the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office has emphasised that final allocations have not yet been made.

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