3 min read13 July
Ex-international aid secretary Andrew Mitchell has accused ministers of attempting to “hoodwink” MPs ahead of a crunch Commons vote on foreign aid cuts.
Chancellor Rishi Sunak could be defeated in the latest Commons effort to scupper his plans to slash the UK’s foreign aid budget, a move which has proven unpopular with several Tory MPs.
Ministers had attempted to block a vote on the proposed cut, but were forced to offer MPs a say on the plans after Commons Speaker Lindsay Hoyle intervened.
Around 50 Conservative MPs have expressed concern over plans to cut the UK’s foreign aid budget from 0.7% of national income each year to 0.5%.
The government had claimed dropping the pledge to keep aid at 0.7% – which was a Conservative manifesto commitment – was a “temporary” measure as a result of pressure on the nation’s finances caused by the pandemic.
In a bid to block the rebellion, Sunak promised to tie the return of the aid budget to the UK’s economic forecast, saying that the 0.7% pledge would return when the UK was no longer borrowing for day-to-day spending and underlying debt was falling.
He promised MPs if they defeated the government on the Commons vote, the aid budget would return next year, but would mean “likely consequences for the fiscal situation, including for taxation and current spending plans”.
The new stance has already persuaded some former rebels to side with the government, with Tory backbencher Huw Merriman saying on Monday evening the compromise was a “sensible and reasonable approach which respects spirit of our 2019 manifesto in a more challenging 2021”.
Have looked at the Treasury’s statement on a proposed compromise on #UKaid; it’s a sensible and reasonable approach which respects spirit of our 2019 manifesto in a more challenging 2021. I’ll be supporting and voting for it tomorrow. pic.twitter.com/GTuWp6Zu4I
— Huw Merriman MP (@HuwMerriman) July 12, 2021
But Tory MP Andrew Mitchell, a former minister and leader of the rebellion, accused the Chancellor of attempting to “hoodwink” MPs.
Speaking to the BBC’s Today programme, he said: “The only cut the government has made is to spending to help the poorest people on the planet in the middle of a pandemic.
“Let’s be clear about what is happening today. The Treasury are saying that they will provide certain conditions for its return. Any of my colleagues who are being satisfied by that, frankly, are being hoodwinked.”
Speaking on Monday, Mitchell urged his colleagues to stick by their manifesto commitment and vote down the plans.
“Every MP in the House of Commons stood on a very clear promise to stand by 0.7%,” he said.”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.”
Former Brexit secretary David Davis, said the new proposals were “not good enough” as he warned the reduction in funding could lead to tens of thousands of deaths across the globe.
He accused minister of “turning the screws” on fellow MPs after an overnight push to force potential rebels to support the government.
The move has also been heavily criticised by charities and international organisations who have claimed the budget cuts will force critical projects to close.
The UN’s family planning agency (UNFPA) said in a statement the plans would result in a £130m drop in their budget, a move which they branded “devastating for women and girls and their families across the world”.
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