Government faces revolt over international aid cuts

New bill could reinstate the target of spending 0.7 per cent of gross national income on aid budget

The government is facing a revolt after 30 Conservative MPs signed an amendment that could force it to reverse cuts to overseas aid spending.

The rebellion is being led by the Conservative MP for Sutton Coldfield and former international development secretary Andrew Mitchell, who introduced a new clause into the Advanced Research and Invention Agency Bill.

The amendment could force the government to reinstate the legally binding target of spending 0.7 per cent of gross national income on its overseas development assistance budget from next January.

Charity leaders rounded on the government when it first announced the reduced 0.5 per cent spending target, a £4bn cut, in November last year.

If the bill passes, it would set up a new agency that would have to make up any shortfall in aid spending if the government were to miss its 0.7 per cent target.

The agency would also be designed to come up with innovative policy ideas.

The bill has its report stage in the House of Commons on Monday.

Mitchell said it offers an opportunity for Britain to reclaim its “rightful place” on the world stage as G7 leaders visit the UK for a summit next week.

He said: “More and more of my colleagues in the House of Commons are supporting this move to stand by our manifesto promise. With our economy returning to growth, there is no justification for balancing the books on the backs of the world’s poor.

“Britain’s national interest is not being served by the devastating impact these cuts are already having on the ground and the unnecessary loss of hundreds of thousands of innocent lives. We urge the government to think again.”

The bill has the support of nine chairs of Commons select committees, including the International Development Committee chair Sarah Champion, the Labour MP for Rotherham.

In response to the amendment, a government spokesperson said: “In 2021 we will spend more than £10bn to improve global health, fight poverty and tackle climate change.

“While the seismic impact of the pandemic has forced us to take tough but necessary decisions, the government is committed to returning to spending 0.7 per cent of GNI on aid when the fiscal situation allows.”

Preet Kaur Gill, Labour MP for Birmingham Edgbaston and shadow international development secretary, said: “The government’s decision to cut the aid budget in the middle of a pandemic risks lives.

“The foreign secretary has failed to conduct impact assessments on the cuts, and slashed everything from aid to the world’s worst humanitarian crisis in Yemen to programmes tracking new Covid-19 variants.

“As the only G7 country to cut aid in the middle of a pandemic, the UK’s credibility as a leader on the greatest global challenges has been undermined.”

Gill had previously accused the government of avoiding scrutiny after it refused to reveal the legal advice it had received regarding the aid cuts.

A group of international aid organisations had also warned that the government was making decisions on programme cuts to international aid programmes behind closed doors.

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