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Monday, June 07, 2021

Planned foreign aid cuts under fire

I do like paid-up members of the awkward squad, even Brexiteers, and you dont get more committed to that cause than David Davis, the Tory MP for Haltemprice and Howden who is a key part of the opposition to government plans to reduce the overseas aid budget from 0.7% of GDP to 0.5%.

Davis is arguing that Boris Johnson risks throwing away “enormous influence” on the world stage with morally “devastating” overseas aid cuts that will lead to preventable deaths. His argument is that cutting aid will lead to a diminution of UK influence in key parts of the world such as Africa, where China is establishing a foothold. But, as the Independent reports, there is more:

“If it [the government] wanted to do this, should have brought it to the House of Commons and said this in our manifesto, but the duress we’re facing now means we have to do this, so ask the House to approve it.

“It didn’t. The reason it didn’t is because the majority of the House doesn’t agree with it. That’s what we’re going to see today if we get the vote. I’m afraid that’s frankly in my judgement a morally poor position for the government”.

Referring to huge cuts to overseas water and sanitation projects as a result of the overall fall in aid spending, Mr Davis said: “You’ve got massive cuts in clean water which kills more children worldwide than almost anything else — 80 per cent cut there.”

When pressed on whether he would like to see the cuts reversed — rather than funding commitments returned next year — he replied: “In this year I would look and say you’ve just got to have a very close look at the damage you’re doing. If you are going to kill people with this, which I think is going to be the outcome in many areas, we need to reverse those immediately.”

Tory rebels are being led by the former Conservative chief whip, Andrew Mitchell, who is seeking to add an amendment to the Advanced Research and Invention Agency (Aria) — a piece of legislation that establishes a new “high-risk, high reward” research agency backed with £800 million to explore new ideas. 

It will be up to speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle to decide whether the amendment is in scope and is selected for consideration when the bill returns to the Commons for further consideration later today.

Mitchell told Sky News that “far more than 100,000 people — which was the original estimate — of avoidable deaths will take place as a result of these terrible cuts”.

The Government is arguing that it needs to reduce spending because of the pandemic, but that is precisely why we need to be out there helping third world countries cope with covid and its consequences. To do otherwise risks prolonging the life of the disease and subsequently bringing further variants back to the UK.

Mr Speaker has ruled the amendment out of order, because it is not part of the scope of the Bill which it seeks to change. From a constitutional point of view, he is surely right. I would hate to go down the American route, where any amendment can be tacked on to any Bill whether related or not.

However, Sir Lindsay has granted an emergency debate. Any resolution resulting from this would not be binding on the government, but an adverse one would put moral pressure on Johnson and Raab. It will be interesting to see what the government decides to do about the vote. It is probable that they will anticipate a humiliating defeat and therefore abort a vote by not nominating tellers.
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