Tory Rebels Get Chance to Challenge Johnson on U.K. Aid Cut

Boris Johnson’s U.K. government will be forced to defend its decision to reduce foreign aid spending after rebels in his ruling Conservative Party won the chance to hold an emergency debate on the policy in parliament.

House of Commons Speaker Lindsay Hoyle agreed to the rebels’ application for the fast-track debate, which will take place on Tuesday for three hours, after disallowing their earlier attempt to vote against the aid cut on Monday.

A group of Tory members of Parliament is seeking to force ministers to maintain the current level of foreign aid spending of 0.7% of Gross National Income, rather than cutting it to 0.5%. They were trying to insert a measure into the Advanced Research and Invention Agency Bill, until Hoyle blocked their efforts on the basis that foreign aid was outside the scope of that legislation.

Instead, Tory rebel leader Andrew Mitchell formally applied for the emergency debate and it was granted.

Tuesday’s deliberations would not be binding on the government but the scale of opposition to Johnson on foreign aid will test the prime minister’s authority over his rank-and-file MPs, and marks a warning of the potential rebellions he could face over painful spending decisions in future.

Reducing the aid target to 0.5% would save about 4 billion pounds ($5.7 billion) and was justified as a way to offset the financial toll of the pandemic.

Awkward Timing

The rebellion also comes at a sensitive time for Johnson as he prepares to host this week’s Group of Seven summit this week. The prime minister is expected to use the meeting to urge leaders to develop a global plan for preventing future pandemics and fight climate change.

Johnson’s spokesman, Max Blain, told reporters the government is committed to restoring aid spending to 0.7% when the demands of the pandemic allow.

Blain also said that Johnson will detail his plans for sending spare Covid-19 vaccine doses to developing countries at the G-7 summit, and that any spending which helps avoid poverty would count officially toward the U.K.’s overseas aid budget.

Mitchell, a former international development secretary, noted that the 0.7% level was in the Conservative Party manifesto before the 2019 general election. He said that had the rebels’ measure been voted on, it would have passed by at least nine votes on Monday.

Ministers are “avoiding a vote on the commitments that each of us made individually and collectively at the last general election, on a promise made internationally, and in the opinion of some of Britain’s leading lawyers the government is acting unlawfully,” Mitchell told Parliament.

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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