Tories will be the ‘nasty party’ again unless overseas aid cuts are halted, Ruth Davidson warns

‘Tory MPs will join the rising chorus of outcry.....as horrific pictures of the unfolding famine in Ethiopia hit our screens’

Rob Merrick
Deputy Political Editor
Sunday 04 July 2021 13:50
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Boris Johnson dismisses warning ‘hundreds of thousands’ will die from tropical diseases after aid cuts

The Conservatives will again be seen as the “nasty party” unless savage cuts to overseas aid are halted, Ruth Davidson warns Boris Johnson.

The “horrific pictures” of famine in Ethiopia will repel voters, the former Scottish Tory leader said – accusing the prime minister of ducking a promised Commons vote because he will lose it.

A Conservative MP also urged Mr Johnson to recognise the rising threat of the Liberal Democrats if concerned voters are ignored, following the shock by-election defeat in Chesham and Amersham.

“Knocking down the Red Wall, only to allow the cultivation of a Yellow Hedge, isn’t smart politics,” said Anthony Mangnall, the MP for Totnes, in Devon, elected in 2019.

The comments represent a fresh push by Tory rebels to try to force a vote before the Commons enters its summer recess in less than three weeks’ time.

They are convinced they will, eventually, find a route to table an amendment to legislation – after the Commons speaker demanded a vote – but the government is currently blocking a showdown.

Aid has been slashed from 0.7 to 0.5 per cent of national output – swiping around £4bn a year – and ministers have refused to set a date for restoring the “temporary” reduction.

Now Ms Davidson, who is about to be made a Conservative peer, has spoken out, saying parliament’s opposition to the cuts is “clear from the debates in both the House of Commons and the Lords”.

“Commitment to the 0.7 per cent runs deep and, if there’s no vote before summer, Tory MPs will join the rising chorus of outcry in the press at the same time as horrific pictures of the unfolding famine in Ethiopia hit our screens along with the ongoing horrors in Yemen and Syria”, she said.

“It really does risk us being transported back to being thought of as the ‘nasty party’ in peoples’ minds once again.”

Mr Mangnall added: “Voters in the south can’t be taken for granted. On planning reforms, on overseas aid and on a zero-sum interpretation of the levelling-up agenda, we ignore our own heartlands at our peril.”

And Karen Bradley, the Conservative chair of the Commons Procedures Committee, warned that MPs would continue to explore a way to secure a “binding vote” to overturn the cuts.

“This hasn’t happened yet in this parliament, but there are now unfortunately several issues where the government is out of step with its backbenchers,” she said.

The World Health Organisation warned earlier this month that “hundreds of thousands of people” will die from tropical diseases because of the aid cuts.

It is among numerous agencies alarmed by the impact of the decision – breaking a Tory manifesto pledge and, some legal experts say, the law.

Funding will only be restored “when the fiscal situation allows”, ministers have said – amid huge pressure to hike spending on social care, education and elsewhere.

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