Boris Johnson faces Tory revolt on foreign aid spend in vote TODAY

Boris Johnson saw off a heavy Tory revolt over slashing foreign aid spending today despite backbenchers including predecessor Theresa May lining dup to accuse his Government of being heartless.

The Government won a vote on cutting the aid budget from 0.7 per cent of GDP to 0.5 per cent after a stormy debate in the Commons, 333 votes to 298, a majority of just 35. 

His Parliamentary working majority is 85, suggesting that scores could have rebelled in a major shot across his bows.

Mr Johnson had earlier pledged that the rate would return but not until the public finances stabilise from pandemic damage.

He PM pointed out that the UK’s liabilities are around 100 per cent of GDP and the next generation will have to foot the bill for the ‘once in a century catastrophe’ of Covid.

But Theresa May was among the Conservatives declaring they would vote against the government, something she has not done since leaving No10 in 2019.

She raged that Britain is ‘turning its back on some of the poorest in the world’, adding that ‘more boys and girls will become slaves’. 

Former international development secretary Andrew Mitchell had urged MPs not to be ‘hoodwinked’ by the government’s compromise, and warned the ‘unpleasant odour’ from the policy was damaging his party.  

Ministers have previously dodged putting the issue of the £4billion a year reduction in funding before the Commons, but in a surprise move designed to wrongfoot rebels a debate and vote was announced for today. 

Boris Johnson was flanked by Rishi Sunak (left) as he defended the decision to cut the international development budget from 0.7 per cent to 0.5 per cent

Boris Johnson was flanked by Rishi Sunak (left) as he defended the decision to cut the international development budget from 0.7 per cent to 0.5 per cent

Boris Johnson was flanked by Rishi Sunak (left) as he defended the decision to cut the international development budget from 0.7 per cent to 0.5 per cent

Theresa May was among the Conservatives declaring they will vote against the government

Theresa May was among the Conservatives declaring they will vote against the government

Theresa May was among the Conservatives declaring they will vote against the government

The IFS has estimated that the reduction means more than £4billion less a year going on foreign aid

The IFS has estimated that the reduction means more than £4billion less a year going on foreign aid

The IFS has estimated that the reduction means more than £4billion less a year going on foreign aid 

Mr Johnson told the House there was agreement across parties on the 0.7 per cent target.

‘This is not an argument about principle, the only question is when we return to 0.7 per cent and my purpose today is to describe how we propose to achieve this shared goal in an affordable way.’

He added: ‘Here we must face the harsh fact that the world is now enduring a catastrophe of a kind that happens only once a century. 

‘This pandemic has cast our country into its deepest recession on record, paralysing our national life, threatening the survival of entire sectors of the economy and causing the Chancellor to find over £407billion to safeguard jobs and livelihoods, to support businesses and public services across the UK.’

He added: ‘Everyone will accept that when you’re suddenly compelled to spend £407billion on sheltering our people from an economic hurricane never experienced in living memory, there must inevitably be consequences for other areas of public spending.’ 

Mr Johnson opening the session was a sign of his determination to face down the uprising. It was closedby Chancellor Rishi Sunak – who has been lobbying hard for support from MPs. 

After the vote Mr Sunak told the Commons: ‘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.

‘Today’s 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.

‘I want to commit to the House that both I and the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary will continue to work with all MPs on how we can continue to be a global leader helping the world’s poorest, on how to improve our aid spending, target it most effectively and ensure that it is getting to those who need it most.

‘Having now provided the House with an effective vote on this matter, the Government will move forward with its planned approach.’

But Danny Sriskandarajah, the Oxfam GB chief executive, said: ‘The outcome of today’s vote is a disaster for the world’s poorest people.

‘With more people in need of humanitarian assistance than at any time since World War II, aid is needed more than ever.

‘The cuts to UK aid are having a direct impact on thousands of lives today and a delay in restoring aid will be felt for generations to come in parts of the world ravaged by conflict, climate change and Covid-19 pandemic.

‘We are seeing a yawning gap between the rhetoric of ‘Global Britain’ and the reality of a Government breaking its promises to the world’s poorest and further undermining the UK’s credibility on the international stage.

‘These cuts won’t balance the books; the Government is putting politics above the lives of world’s most vulnerable communities.’

Rebels had been hoping up to 50 Tories would line up against the proposals, with sources telling MailOnline beforehand it was ‘all to play for’. 

However, ministers were increasingly confident they could keep numbers down well below that level. 

Mr Sunak has been trying to build support for his plan to keep the budget lower for four or five years, until government borrowing stabilises. 

Tory backbencher Peter Bone was among those backing ministers, pointing out that the UK is still the third-largest donor in the world. 

Mr Sunak's compromise plan involves a new Treasury framework that will allow international aid spending to return to 0.7 per cent of gross domestic product, from the new lower figure of 0.5 per cent, when it is deemed affordable.

Mr Sunak's compromise plan involves a new Treasury framework that will allow international aid spending to return to 0.7 per cent of gross domestic product, from the new lower figure of 0.5 per cent, when it is deemed affordable.

Mr Sunak’s compromise plan involves a new Treasury framework that will allow international aid spending to return to 0.7 per cent of gross domestic product, from the new lower figure of 0.5 per cent, when it is deemed affordable.

However, there was clearly significant opposition in the chamber this afternoon. 

Mr Mitchell said: ‘Anyone who thinks this is not affecting our party’s reputation is living in cloud cuckoo land.

‘In Chesham and Amersham they have the biggest Christian Aid group in the country, there’s an unpleasant odour wafting out under my party’s front door.

‘This is not who we are, this is not what global Britain is and I urge MPs tonight to vote against this motion.’

Mrs May also firmly placed herself in the rebel camp. ‘This isn’t about palaces for dictators and vanity projects, 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,’ the former prime minister said. 

Confirming Labour would oppose, Sir Keir Starmer said ‘every living prime minister’ bar Boris Johnson is against plans to cut the international aid budget. 

If the government loses it has promised that spending will return to 0.7 per cent from January next year. 

The UK has long been one of the few countries that sticks to the international target of committing 0.7 per cent of national income to aid spending. 

The showdown remains a high-stakes gamble, but there is optimism in Government circles that Mr Sunak’s charm offensive, coupled with the element of surprise, might be enough to head off a damaging defeat.

One-time rebel Huw Merriman said: ‘I have looked at the Treasury’s statement on a proposed compromise on UK aid. It’s a sensible approach which respects the spirit of our 2019 manifesto in a more challenging 2021. I’ll be voting for it tomorrow.’

The Treasury slashed the aid budget last year after the pandemic triggered a record Budget deficit of £400billion. Sources said the move was designed help avoid cuts to public services at home.

Opinion polls suggest the cut was supported by the public. But it has angered the aid sector, which has threatened legal action – a prospect that will recede if today’s vote goes through. 

At the weekend, billionaires led by Microsoft founder Bill Gates tried to shame the Government over the cut by announcing they would give £100million in emergency funding to save projects threatened by the reduction in UK aid this year.

Mr Sunak’s compromise plan involves a new Treasury framework that will allow international aid spending to return to 0.7 per cent of gross domestic product, from the new lower figure of 0.5 per cent, when it is deemed affordable. 

Under a proposed ‘double lock’, this will happen when the Office for Budget Responsibility watchdog considers the Government is no longer borrowing to fund day-to-day spending, and when debt is falling as a proportion of GDP. But it is unlikely that these conditions will be met any time soon.

Mr Mitchell said he would rebel, telling Times Radio: ‘I think I’ve only rebelled against my own party and government about three times in the 34 years since I was first elected to the House of Commons, but I shall do so today with conviction and with enthusiasm, because I think it’s the most terrible thing to break our promise.’

But Tory former Cabinet minister Andrea Leadsom, writing in the Daily Telegraph, backed the ‘compromise’ put forward by the Treasury.

‘By working together to develop this compromise, I’m confident that we can move forward and focus on the overwhelmingly positive action we take in supporting the world’s most vulnerable,’ she said.

Treasury Chief Secretary Stephen Barclay told Today the economy was ‘bouncing back better than previously forecast’ in response to a suggestion it could be four or five years before the tests are met to allow the 0.7% target to be reinstated.

‘This was a test that was met in 2018/19, so what we are saying is, this is a test that has been met in the past, this is a test that will be determined independently through the measures that the OBR set out, and that the direction of travel, the trajectory, is very positive,’ he said.

A Government source said: ‘We remain committed to overseas development and this sets out a pathway to returning to 0.7 per cent when economic circumstances allow.’

Ministers accept they will not win over committed rebels such as former Cabinet ministers Mr Mitchell and David Davis. 

Mr Davis yesterday asked Mr Rees-Mogg: ‘Are we going to have an impact assessment on the number of lives lost as a result of this policy?’

But Government sources believe they may be able to win over enough rebels to stave off defeat.

Mr Rees-Mogg said there would be a three-hour general debate on the issue. He warned: ‘Votes have consequences. And if the motion were to be negative, that would be a significant consequence for our fiscal situation where I would remind the House over £400billion has had to be spent because of the coronavirus pandemic.’

Shadow international development secretary Preet Kaur Gill said: ‘Labour opposes this shameful attempt by the Government to weasel out of their commitments to supporting the world’s poorest and most vulnerable during a global pandemic.

‘The Chancellor’s proposal would lead to an indefinite cut to the aid budget and is not in our national interest.

‘Cuts to international aid will leave the very poorest weaker in the fight against the threats of poverty, climate change and the current pandemic.

‘In return this will have a negative impact on the Government’s ability to keep our country safe and secure, and limit our ability to fight the Covid-19 pandemic and climate change.’

Link hienalouca.com

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