UK Ministers have said they have “no plans” to give MPs a vote on foreign aid cuts despite a backbench Conservative rebellion and pressure from the Commons speaker.
Boris Johnson’s official spokesman said the Prime Minister did not believe a vote was needed to cut £4billion off the aid budget – a breach of a Tory manifesto pledge.
Critics warns the Government plan to cut international aid from 0.7 to 0.5 per cent of GDP, despite a commitment in law, will kill thousands and wreck the life chances of thousands more.
Ministers argue the indefinite suspension of the target is needed because it cannot be justified when the public finances are struggling with the impact of the pandemic.
Tory rebels, including former PM Theresa May, tried on Monday to reverse the cut by amending a Bill in a Commons ambush.
Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle ruled the move out of order, but said MPs should get an “effective vote” on the issue, and granted the rebels an emergency debate today.
However, and despite rebel hopes this week’s G7 meeting in Cornwall would shame the Government into a climbdown, the PM’s spokesman made clear that ministers did not believe a Commons vote was required to make the cut.
“We are acting in accordance with the act as set out. It explicitly envisages the circumstances which we now face which is this global pandemic,” the spokesman said.
“There are certainly no plans to bring forward a vote.”
Introducing the debate, former International Development Secretary and lead rebel Andrew Mitchell, said the cut was an “unethical and unlawful betrayal”.
He said: “It’s not proper and it’s fundamentally un-British and we shouldn’t behave in this way.
“It’s about the Red Wall seats. The Government thinks it’s popular in the Red Wall seats to stop British aid, money going overseas. It’s also a very patronising attitude to people who live in the Red Wall seats.”
Ms May highlighted an 80% cut to a global anti-slavery project.
She said: “The UK has been the world leader in tackling modern slavery – now we see organisations having to go cap in hand to other governments to make up for the shortfall caused by the UK’s decision to cut international development spending.
“I only hope modern slavery is still on the G7 agenda as it has been in the past.”
SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford described the UK Government as “morally bankrupt”.
He said: “Cutting the aid budget is not only cruel and counter-productive on its own terms, it’s an act of a Government increasingly alone on the world stage.
“The UK is virtually the only country that has cut its aid spending. Nearly every other wealthy country has recognised the greater necessity of helping those in need at this unprecedented time of humanitarian crisis.
“The Government’s timing couldn’t be worse, international opinion on these cuts is crystal clear – it is rightly seen as a disgraceful abdication of the UK’s international responsibilities in a year where we should be showing some international leadership with the G7 and the Cop26.”
Treasury minister Steve Barclay asked the rebels how they would find £4.3bn to reverse the cut, saying it could mean 1p on the basic rate of income tax or 1% on VAT.
He said: “Decisions such as this are not easy. The situation in short is this: a hugely difficult economic and fiscal situation, which requires in turn difficult actions.”
“We are absolutely clear about our intentions to return to 0.7% of our national income on overseas aid when the fiscal situation allows, but cannot do so yet.
“We will keep the matter under careful and regular review. But for now, the tough choice is the right choice.”