Dominic Raab admits failure to hold Commons vote on massive overseas aid cuts is heading for court

Foreign secretary acknowledges risk of ‘judicial review’ - as he is told ‘I don’t think you are going to have a vote?’

Rob Merrick
Deputy Political Editor
Tuesday 16 March 2021 10:33
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Dominic Raab accused of dodging vote on overseas aid cuts

The foreign secretary has admitted the failure to hold a promised Commons vote on massive overseas aid cuts is likely to end in a court battle. 

The government is at risk of “judicial review”, Dominic Raab acknowledged – as he faced taunts over whether the government still intends to risk an expected defeat at the hands of Tory rebels.

The vote was expected at the start of the year, but may now take place at all – despite the cuts, including a 50 per cent reduction in funds for war-torn Yemen, beginning within weeks.

“I think you’re not going to put it to a vote because you know you’d lose it, wouldn’t you?” Mr Raab was asked in a BBC Radio 4 interview.

He replied: ‘We will look very carefully at what’s required and comply with the legislation,” – prompting the taunt “I don’t think you are going to have a vote, foreign secretary?”

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The Independent revealed the pledge to give MPs a vote before starting the process of slashing aid from 0.7 to 0.5 per cent of national income – a cut of around £4bn-a-year – was set to be broken.

Legislation was promised after Mr Raab admitted the cut would not be reversed “in the foreseeable, immediate future” – when only an emergency, temporary cut would be lawful.

With just weeks to go, only the Yemen cut has been revealed – a reduction to £87m, from £197m last year – and only because an international donor conference was staged.

But Syria, Somalia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Libya, Nigeria and the Lebanon are all poised to lose more than half of their funding, a leak revealed.

Mr Raab was asked if he would halt the cuts because he was in danger of “breaking the law”, but insisted they were necessary because of the economic crisis sparked by Covid-19.

He was then asked if he would “have the courage to put to the vote the decision” in order to “give MPs the chance to decide”, but ducked the question.

“On the law, there’s nothing that we’ve done or will do that breaches our international obligations, or indeed that legislation. Of course, we would be subject to judicial review if we did that,” he said.

“You’re right to say that we wanted to meet the 0.7 per cent, it was in our manifesto, but I think people will understand the huge challenges that we face.”

The comments came as Mr Raab defended plans to lift the cap on the UK’s stockpile of nuclear warheads, calling it the “ultimate insurance policy” against threats from hostile states.

A review of security, defence, development and foreign policy – to be published on Tuesday – is expected to increase the limit from 180 to 260, ending three decades of gradual disarmament.

The move is expected to pave the way for a £10bn rearmament in response to perceived threats from Russia and China.

“It is the ultimate guarantee, the ultimate insurance policy, against the worst threat from hostile states.,” the foreign secretary said of the growing nuclear armoury.

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