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Johnson sees off Tory revolt over cuts to UK’s foreign aid budget

Former PM Theresa May warns some of world’s poorest will die as a result of vote

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Boris Johnson

Boris Johnson

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Boris Johnson

Boris Johnson has survived a Tory revolt over aid cuts which saw his predecessor Theresa May warn that some of the world's poorest will die as a result of the slashed spending.

The SDLP described the move as a “callous and cold-hearted decision”.

MPs voted by a majority of 35 to back the reduced level of aid funding and a new test which critics have warned could mean spending never returns to its target of 0.7% of gross national income.

The Prime Minister opened the crunch Commons debate on the decision to cut funding for official development assistance (ODA) from that 0.7% target to 0.5%. He said the UK's public finances are under a "greater strain than ever before in peacetime history", adding: "Every pound we spend on aid has to be borrowed and, in fact, represents not our money but money that we're taking from future generations."

But Mrs May said the cut meant the Government "turns its back on the poorest in the world".

"This isn't about palaces for dictators and vanity projects, it's about what cuts to funding mean — that fewer girls will be educated, more girls and boys will become slaves, more children will go hungry and more of the poorest people in the world will die," the former Prime Minister said.

The commitment to 0.7% is written in law and restated in the 2019 Conservative manifesto, but was ditched as the Government attempted to save money in response to the economic carnage caused by coronavirus.

The 0.5% level means more than £10bn will be spent on aid this year, around £4.4bn less than if the original commitment had been kept.

Some would-be rebels were won over by a compromise put forward by Chancellor Rishi Sunak, which sets out tests for restoring the 0.7% level. The funding will be returned to the promised level if the Office for Budget Responsibility believes the UK is not borrowing to finance day-to-day spending and underlying debt is falling.

Mr Johnson told MPs "we all believe in the principle that aid can transform lives" and voting for the Government's motion "will provide certainty for our aid budget and an affordable path back to 0.7% while also allowing for investment in other priorities, including the NHS, schools and the police".

"As soon as circumstances allow and the tests are met, we will return to the target that unites us," he insisted.

SDLP MP Claire Hanna described the cut as “at best, penny wise and pound foolish — investment in long-term development aid helps build resilience in the poorest communities and countries, enabling them to better withstand shocks from things like Covid and climate change”.

“In that context, and following the mean-spirited decision to abolish the Department for International Development, the strategy of cutting aid spending is an example of narrow politics that will further diminish the reputation of ‘Global Britain’ on the world stage. UK Aid was something people from all communities and all regions could be really proud of.

“I had the privilege of working for an international NGO for a decade. I had the opportunity to see projects in Africa, Asia and the Caribbean.

“At a time of immense need, this is a callous and cold-hearted decision.”

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