UK may reverse overseas aid cut with Commons vote

Prime Minister said to be 'actively considering' Parliamentary vote this month

Sudanese girls sit in a classroom at the El-Riyadh camp for internally displaced persons (IDP) in Geneina, the capital of the state of Sudan's West Darfur, on February 8, 2017. (Photo by ASHRAF SHAZLY / AFP)

Britain could reverse its controversial £4 billion ($5.5bn) cut to overseas aid, with Prime Minister Boris Johnson said to be considering a Parliamentary vote on the issue.

Many Conservative MPs have been clamouring for a say on the decision to reduce financial support to vital overseas projects, saying it puts lives at risk and has severely dented Britain’s reputation.

Former prime minster Theresa May is among an estimated 50 Tories who have demanded a vote in parliament on the matter, which could reverse the cut.

Mr Johnson is apparently poised to climb down and is “actively considering” offering MPs a vote before the end of this month, The Sunday Times reported.

The Prime Minister has also been advised that to avoid the Conservatives being once again dubbed the “nasty party” he should allow the vote or face the rebel MPs introducing their own amendment.

20 February 2021, Lebanon, Marj: A Syrian refugee flushes rain water outside her tent following heavy rain, at Marj Syrian refugee camp in Lebanon's Bekaa valley. Syrian refugees have been affected by heavy rain and snow, high winds, and frigid temperatures that have hit Lebanon. Photo: Marwan Naamani/dpa (Photo by Marwan Naamani/picture alliance via Getty Images)

There has been dismay among Tories since the government announced last year that it would reduce the 0.7 per cent of gross domestic product put aside for overseas aid to 0.5 per cent.

With reports of projects around the world being abruptly halted and lives endangered as a result, there is significant pressure on Mr Johnson to reverse the decision.

“This is damaging our international reputation and leading to hundreds of thousands of avoidable deaths,” said Andrew Mitchell, a former international development minister.

“Too many Tory colleagues are deeply concerned and will not support the government’s current position.”

The government has been criticised by a series of reports on the decision’s impact, highlighting issues such as women’s health, clean water, girls’ education, the humanitarian crises in Yemen and Syria and childhood polio vaccinations.

Political sources say the government has been told the issue is “not going to go away” and there have been talks between the Foreign Office and Treasury to find a compromise.

There is a fear in Whitehall that Tory MPs will make it difficult for other government legislation to pass if they are not given a vote.

Mr Johnson’s position has also been compromised by recent by-election defeats, in the Batley and Spen constituency last week and in Chesham and Amersham last month.

“The simple truth is that this policy will lead to the death of women and children”, said David Davis, a former Brexit minister. “It’s a breach of our manifesto promise, it’s very likely unlawful and has never been put before parliament.

“Many MPs feel an enormous moral imperative to put this right as soon as possible and much of the public feel the same.”

The government avoided a potential defeat on the issue last month after the Speaker of the House of Commons refused to let MPs vote on an amendment. But Sir Lindsay Hoyle has said the government should bring forward an urgent and legally binding vote on the issue.

There is speculation the government may introduce a time limit on the aid cut of just one year.

Updated: July 4th 2021, 3:43 PM