Boris Johnson sees off Tory revolt over foreign aid budget cut

Foreign aid cut defended by Conservative MP George Freeman

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In a crunch Commons vote, 24 Conservative backbenchers including former premier Theresa May and a string of former ministers broke party ranks to try to block the move. The Prime Minister won the day with MPs backing the decision to reduce the annual overseas spending target from 0.7 percent of national income to 0.5 percent with a majority of 35. Mr Johnson insisted the cut to the taxpayer-funded budget was forced by the devastation caused to the public finances by the pandemic.

He said: “Everyone will accept that when you’re suddenly compelled to spend £407billion on sheltering our people from an economic hurricane never experienced in living memory, there must inevitably be consequences for other areas of public spending.”

But Sir John Major, another former Tory premier, said: “The Government has blatantly broken its word, and should be ashamed of its decision. It seems that we can afford a national yacht that no one either wants or needs, whilst cutting help to some of the most miserable and destitute people in the world.”

Last night’s vote suspended a spending target set by Tony Blair’s Labour government and enshrined in law by the coalition led by David Cameron.

MPs voted by 333 to 298 for a Government motion backing the cut. Rebels included Jeremy Hunt, Damian Green and David Davis.

The decision will mean a cut in the Budget made by Chancellor Rishi Sunak as a “temporary measure” last year to save around £4billion is expected to stay for several years.

The UK is still expected to spend around £10billion on overseas aid this year. During the three-hour Commons debate, Mrs May said: “We made a promise to the poorest people in the world, the Government has broken that promise.”

Mr Sunak pledged: “I want to commit to the House that both I and the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary will continue to work with all MPs on how we can continue to be a global leader helping the world’s poorest. On how to improve our aid spending, target it most effectively and ensure that it is getting to those who need it most.

“Having now provided the House with an effective vote on this matter, the Government will move forward with its planned approach.”

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