Commons rebellion stymied by the speaker
Vicious cuts to overseas aid look set to continue – after a rebellion by MPs stalled.
Boris Johnson’s administration says it intends to plough ahead with plans to slash the international aid budget by almost £4 billion a year.
Some of the world’s most vulnerable are already suffering because of the decision – and this looks set to get worse as the prime minister, using Covid as a pretext, insisted the cuts will continue.
Johnson’s administration had faced a Commons rebellion on the matter this week, with even hardline aid sceptics on the Tory side shocked at their impact, with one warning that it will mean children will die, and worried about the UK’s world standing as it hosts the G7 summit.
However, the government insists it intends to push through the reduction of overseas aid spend from 0.7% of national income to 0.5%, ripping up a legal and a manifesto commitment in the process.
The government says it has to do this to help economic recover from Covid, and has said it will return to its 0.7% commitment when the time is right.
However, many are worried the cut will be permanent - and charities say the effects are already being felt.
This is outlined in a letter signed by 1,700 charities, academics and business leaders to the prime minister.
In it, the likes of Save the Children, WWF UK and Cafod said the reduction had already led to the closure of feeding centres and clinics - and forced the cancellation of projects including water sanitation and training for healthcare workers.
The letter states: "While other G7 countries have stepped up their aid budget, the UK is the only one to have rowed back on its commitments”, adding that doing this during the pandemic was a "double blow to the world's poorest communities".
The government says it will still spend more than £10bn on foreign aid in 2021.
Health secretary Matt Hancock said it was a "temporary" reduction, which was "entirely reasonable" given that the pandemic had caused a "once-in-300-year economic interruption".
Around 30 Tory rebels – including former prime minister Theresa May - had said they were willing to oppose the government and reinstate the aid spending as they sought technical means to force a vote, which would have been backed by most opposition parties, ensuring a defeat for Johnson.
However, this was ruled out by Commons Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle (pictured).
Instead, he granted an emergency debate on the issue – with no binding vote.
He did, however, insist ministers should give the Commons "the respect it deserves" and find a way to allow MPs an "effective decision" on the target.
As TFN published, it was unclear where this would go – but the government is insisting it will not back down.
Sam Nadel, Oxfam’s head of policy and advocacy, said: “It is bitterly disappointing that parliament missed this opportunity to vote on keeping its promise to voters and the world’s most vulnerable people by restoring the 0.7% pledge.
“Devastating cuts to the UK’s aid budget risk the lives of thousands of people already struggling to survive in some of the world’s worst humanitarian crises as well as cope with the effects of the Covid-19 crisis.
“As the country prepares to welcome G7 leaders, the government continues to undermine the UK’s credibility on the international stage while its commitments to the world’s poorest are abandoned.”