John Major tells Boris Johnson aid cut is not ‘morally defensible’ as Tory rebellion looms

‘I do not believe it is morally defensible to ease our our financial burden at the expense of some of the poorest,’ says former PM

Ashley Cowburn
Political Correspondent
Friday 04 June 2021 15:43

Sir John Major has urged the Boris Johnson to “let compassion prevail” and abandon a multi-billion cut to Britain’s overseas aid budget, as the prime minister faces the prospect of a humiliating Commons defeat.

The former Conservative prime minister’s message comes after a surprise revolt was launched by Tory MPs this week, with 30 backbench MPs publicly backing an amendment that seeks to reinstate the funds.

In a statement released from Sir John’s office, the former Tory leader said he recognised the economic difficulties the government faces, but stressed: “I strongly support Britain maintaining her statutory promise to commit 0.7 per cent of our GDP to overseas aid.

“I do not believe it is morally defensible to ease our our financial burden at the expense of some of the poorest and most vulnerable people in the world, who have nothing — and nowhere else to turn for help”.

He added: “I made my own views on this clear to the government, privately, some weeks ago and — even at this late hour — I hope they will honour their better instincts and let compassion prevail to aid those in dire need.

“Only then can we re-establish ourselves as a nation that keeps its word, and begin to repair our reputation as a global force for good”.

The government has already faced intense criticism for the decision to breach the Tory manifesto pledge of maintaining overseas aid spending at 0.7 per cent of gross national income, with a reduction to 0.5 — amounting to a cut of around £4 billion.

Both Dominic Raab, the foreign secretary, and the chancellor Rishi Sunak, have argued the cut is a temporary measure while the economy recovers from the Covid-19 pandemic, but the government has refused to test support for the reduction in aid spending in the Commons and has failed to specify when the budget will be restored.

Led by the former international development secretary and Conservative chief whip, Andrew Mitchell, Conservative rebels will seek 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.

The explanatory note of the amendment says: “This new clause is intended to reaffirm the duty in the International Development (Official Development Assistance Target) Act 2015 for UK official development assistance (ODA) to amount to 0.7 per cent of gross national income each year. It will require Aria to make up any shortfall in that proportion from January 2022.”

It will be up to speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle to decide whether the amendment is selected for consideration when the bill returns to the Commons for further consideration on Monday.

Conservative rebels suggested on Thursday they were “confident” of having the numbers required to inflict defeat on the government, with 30 MPs, including the former prime minister Theresa May, and several ex-cabinet ministers backing the amendment.

Mr Mitchell said: “More and more of my colleagues in the House of Commons are supporting this move to stand by our manifesto promise.

“With our economy returning to growth, there is no justification for balancing the books on the backs of the world’s poor. With G7 leaders coming to Britain next week, there is an opportunity for us to reclaim our rightful place on the global stage.

“Britain’s national interest is not being served by the devastating impact these cuts are already having on the ground and the unnecessary loss of hundreds of thousands of innocent lives. We urge the government to think again.”

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