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by Kate Proctor and Jenni Davidson
14 July 2021
Cut to UK foreign aid to go ahead after Tory rebellion fails

Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak - Image credit: PA

Cut to UK foreign aid to go ahead after Tory rebellion fails

A planned cut to foreign aid will go ahead after MPs voted by 333 to 298 to cut aid from 0.7 per cent to 0.5 per cent of national income, despite 24 Tory MPs rebelling against the government.

All Scottish Conservative MPs voted with UK Government for the cut.

The Scottish Government and opposition parties have criticised the decision, with Labour shadow Scottish secretary Ian Murray saying it “not in the national interest” and would reduce the UK’s place in the world.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the cut – which breaks a Conservative manifesto commitment to spend 0.7 per cent of gross national income (GNI) 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 UK Government will now move forwards with the reduction in aid spending, but it has compromised and does remain committed to the 0.7 per cent 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, former 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 compromise agreement, where there is a reduction in spending to the aid spend from 0.7 per cent to 0.5 per cent of gross 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 first 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.”

The Scottish Government’s external affairs secretary, Angus Robertson, called it a “deplorable decision” and Labour shadow Scottish secretary Ian Murray called it a “shameful indictment” on Douglas Ross and the Scottish Conservative MPs who voted for the policy.

Robertson said: “I am greatly disappointed. The Scottish Government continues to believe that the cutting of the overseas aid budget is a deplorable decision that is already hitting the world’s poorest and most marginal communities at a time of great need.

“Scotland remains fully committed to playing our part in tackling shared global challenges including poverty, injustice and inequality, and the Scottish Government is committed to increase the International Development Fund (IDF) by 50 per cent to £15 million.

“As the global pandemic continues, the UK Government should not be turning its back on the poorest.

“Rather this is precisely the moment when we should be living up to our core values.”

Murray said: “Douglas Ross and the Scottish Tories have today voted to cut aid to the world’s poorest people, and to reduce Britain’s place in the world.

“It is a shameful indictment on Douglas Ross and his party’s priorities. 

“Ross and his MPs were elected on a manifesto commitment to retain the aid commitment but he didn’t have the backbone to stand up to Boris Johnson. 

“These cuts are not in our national interest and will weaken the Government’s ability to keep our country safe and secure and fight the COVID-19 pandemic and climate crisis.

“This is also a betrayal of the Scots in East Kilbride who deliver the UK’s life-changing aid. 

“Labour will continue to oppose this shameful attempt by the Conservative government to retreat from their moral and legal commitments and their manifesto promises.”

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