As it happenedended1606423937

Brexit news – live: EU may not turn up to trade talks as foreign aid cut to stay for ‘foreseeable future’

Follow the latest updates from parliament

Rishi Sunak announces foreign aid to be cut to 0.5 per cent

Downing Street has admitted that it does not know if EU negotiator Michel Barnier will turn up for face-to-face Brexit trade talks which are due to resume tomorrow.

The admission came after reports suggested Mr Barnier was pulling out of the talks unless there is a major shift in the UK’s negotiating stance.

It came as Boris Johnson faced a growing backlash from senior Tories over plans to cut foreign aid from 0.7 per cent to 0.5 per cent of gross national income (GNI) - a cut which would account for more than £4bn.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak said in Wednesday's Spending Review that the plans were needed to repair the economy following the coronavirus crisis.

Former foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt and ex-prime minister David Cameron were among those who criticised the proposal, while Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby said it was “shameful and wrong” to remove support to some of the world’s poorest people during the pandemic.

And the prime minister risked further antagonising Tory MPs and much of England as the government announced nearly every part of the country would be subject to Tier 2 and Tier 3 coronavirus restrictions upon exiting lockdown.

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Hello and welcome to The Independent’s live coverage of UK politics today.

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Tory anger over plans to cut foreign aid budget

Boris Johnson is facing anger from his own party this morning over plans to cut the foreign aid budget as part of the government’s Spending Review aimed at dealing with the economic impact of the coronavirus crisis.

A number of prominent Conservatives, such as former foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt and ex-prime minister David Cameron, publicly expressed concern at the move, which would break a manifesto commitment.

The proposal would cut overseas aid from 0.7 per cent to 0.5 per cent of gross national income (GNI) - a cut which would account for more than £4bn.

On Wednesday, Foreign Office minister Baroness Sugg quit in protest at the move, arguing it was “fundamentally wrong” and warning Mr Johnson it would “diminish our power to influence other nations to do what is right”.

Other Tories critical of the move included former international development secretary Andrew Mitchell and chairman of the Commons defence committee Tobias Ellwood.

Our Whitehall editor, Kate Devlin, has more on the story below:

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UK should be ‘exercising global leadership’ not cutting aid, Labour’s Dodds says

Labour’s shadow chancellor Anneliese Dodds has criticised plans to cut overseas aid from 0.7 per cent to 0.5 per cent of gross national income (GNI), warning that the UK should be showing global leadership during the coronavirus crisis.

“This is part of a series of, sadly, failures to take the right responsible decisions to get our economy on the right path,” Ms Dodds told ITV’s Good Morning Britain.

“Now actually that's at a time when the UK, next year, is meant to be exercising global leadership in a whole range of different areas, so a lot of British businesses have been very critical of that decision.”

She also criticised chancellor Rishi Sunak’s move to freeze public sector pay for more than one million workers, arguing that the proposal would hurt the recovery by leaving people with less money to spend in shops.

“We're experiencing the worst economic downturn in the G7, we needed to see really resolute action to build up confidence, to get those jobs being created again,” Ms Dodds said.

“And unfortunately we just didn't see enough of that from the chancellor yesterday.”

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The Resolution Foundation think-tank has predicted that the coronavirus crisis will reduce average pay packets by £1,200 a year by 2025 compared to pre-pandemic forecasts.

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‘Unprecedented uncertainty’ about future of economy, OBR chairman says

There is “unprecedented uncertainty” about the future of the UK’s economy due to the coronavirus pandemic, the chairman of the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) has said.

“A lot depends on both the effectiveness of the current public health restrictions, the effectiveness of Test and Trace, and then the ultimate effectiveness and availability of the vaccine,” Richard Hughes told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

Mr Hughes added that the OBR had already reduced its forecast for output by 4 per cent to take account of the impact of Brexit, with a further 2 per cent “on top of the 4 per cent” if there is no free trade agreement with the EU.

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Union leaders oppose chancellor’s public sector pay freeze

Union leaders have opposed chancellor Rishi Sunak’s plans to freeze public sector pay for more than one million workers as part of the government’s Spending Review.

The GMB union warned the proposal would hit key workers who had “risked everything” during the coronavirus crisis.

“This attempt to divide and rule will put him on a direct collision course with public service workers, and he should know that we fought the public sector pay cap before and we busted it,” Rehana Azam, national officer of the GMB union, said.

“GMB will not accept more pay cuts for our members at a time when the whole country is relying on them.”

Meanwhile, Mark Serwotka, general secretary of the Public and Commercial Services union (PCS), said public sector staff would feel a “deep sense of betrayal” over the move.

“Despite keeping the country running during the Covid crisis, supplying Universal Credit and helping businesses access the furlough scheme, the chancellor has justified a pay freeze by pointing to lower wages in the private sector,” Mr Serwotka said.

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Sunak denies UK is ‘turning its back’ on world’s poorest

Chancellor Rishi Sunak has insisted that the UK is not turning its back on the world's poorest people as he defended the government's plan to cut the foreign aid budget.

“Is it a difficult decision? Of course it is a difficult decision - no one wants to be having to make these difficult decisions,” Mr Sunak told Sky News.

“But this is about an economic emergency that I described yesterday and we're going to have record-level peacetime borrowing and debt..."

He added: "I don't think anyone could characterise our level of support for the poorest countries as turning our back.

“We'll be spending more as a percentage of GDP than France, Canada, the US, Japan.”

You can find his comments in full below:

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Chancellor refuses to comment on future tax rises for recovery

Rishi Sunak has refused to comment on future tax rises but has not ruled out breaking other manifesto commitments after going back on a promise to not reduce the overseas aid budget.

“I'm not going to get drawn on future fiscal policy,” the chancellor told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

He insisted that the government intended to return the aid budget to 0.7 per cent of gross national income when fiscal circumstances allow - although he would not set a date for when that could be.

“We made a choice yesterday to prioritise people's jobs, public services and helping this country get through coronavirus. I think it is a choice that the British people will support,” Mr Sunak said.

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Will disruption caused by Brexit make 2021 even more difficult than 2020? Rishi Sunak gave his take on that question to Sky News earlier this morning:

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The government will bring forward legislation for its controversial plan to cut foreign aid, according to The Times’ Steven Swinford.

That means Tory MPs who are opposed to the proposal - such as former ministers Jeremy Hunt and Andrew Mitchell - will have an opportunity to vote against it.

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