Chancellor Rishi Sunak faces a tough response to his £4bn cut to the foreign aid budget, with fellow Tories threatening to join with Labour to vote down the change. The government backed down on allowing a vote after the Speaker last week said the House of Commons must have a say on the move to cut the aid budget from 0.7 per cent to 0.5 per cent of gross national income.
A group of up to 50 Conservative, and opposition party MPs have expressed concern about the deductions, which have caused quite the uproar. British charities warn the cut will lead to deaths and suffering in other countries reliant on the UK's foreign aid contribution. Sunak released a written statement, setting out his argument for the change being a temporary measure that would increase again to 0.7 per cent when there was no more borrowing for day-to-day spending and underlying debt was falling.
He said the government would abide by the consequences of the vote, with spending returning to 0.7 per cent of gross national income in the next tax year if MPs rejected his proposals. He said, “If the house approves the motion, recognising the need to manage the public finances responsibly and maintaining strong investment in domestic public services like the NHS, schools and police, then the government will continue with the approach set out in this statement.”
Adding, “however, if the house were to negative the motion, rejecting the government’s assessment of the fiscal circumstances, then the government would consequently return to spending 0.7% of GNI on international aid in the next calendar year, and with likely consequences for the fiscal situation, including for taxation and current public spending plans.”
Andrew Mitchell, the Conservative former development secretary who is one of those leading opposition to the cut, said, “Every MP in the House of Commons stood on a very clear promise to stand by 0.7 per cent. What is being proposed may not return Britain to the commitment for decades to come. I am urging my colleagues to keep their promise and prevent hundreds of thousands of preventable deaths by voting against tomorrow’s motion.”
Meanwhile, former Brexit secretary, David Davis, and another leader of those rejecting the change, said that even some ministers had been privately encouraging the rebels to overturn the government’s decision. He said Sunak’s proposal was “not good enough” and the impact was likely to be the deaths of 100,000 children. He said he thought the government had offered the vote because it realised that the rebels would keep on the pressure. “We will not give up,” he said.