TORY PM Johnson faced Tory rebels in the House of Commons yesterday over whether to continue the foreign aid cut of 0.5% of GNI (Gross National Income) or return it to 0.7%.
Johnson narrowly avoided a defeat.
The vote for the government’s motion was 333 for, and 298 against – a majority of just 35.
During the debate Johnson said: ‘This pandemic has cast our country into its deepest recession on record, paralysed our national life, threatened the survival of entire sectors of the economy.
‘My right honourable friend the Chancellor has had to find over £407bn to safeguard jobs and livelihoods, to safeguard businesses and public services across the United Kingdom.
‘Everyone will accept that when you are suddenly compelled to spend £407bn on sheltering our people from an economic hurricane never experienced in living memory, there must inevitably be consequences in other areas of public spending.
‘Last year, under the pressure of the emergency, our borrowing increase five-fold to almost £300bn – more than 14% of GDP (Gross Domestic Product) the highest since the Second World War.
‘This year our national debt is climbing towards 100% of the GDP, the highest since nearly six decades.’
He said that if MPs voted for the motion, funding for international aid will only be restored to 0.7% if the economy meets two conditions.
Setting these out he said: ‘First, that the UK is no longer borrowing to cover day-to-day expenditure, and second, that public debt, excluding the Bank of England, is falling as a share of GDP.’
The Labour and Opposition leader Keir Starmer and then Tory MP after Tory MP stood up to say that these conditions would never be met.
Starmer said: ‘If the motion is carried, then the cut to overseas aid to 0.5% will effectively carry on indefinitely. If the motion is rejected, the government will consequently return to spending 0.7% of GNI in the next calendar year.
‘So let me be clear, Labour will vote to reject this motion.
‘UK aid to Afghanistan is being cut from £192.3m to £38.2m.
‘In Yemen, the biggest humanitarian crisis in the world, her aid has been cut by nearly 60%. In Syria, the government is slashing aid by 50%.
‘And for the Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh there is a cut of 42%.
‘All of those cuts will create more refugees, more instability and more people having to flee their homes.
‘This cut will also cut the UK’s influence, and this cut leaves a vacuum which other countries like Russia and China will fill.
‘We are the only G7 country which is cutting aid.’
Ex-Tory PM and MP for Maidenhead, Theresa May, said: ‘I stood on a manifesto to maintain International Aid Funding at 0.7% of GNI, not just that, we said we will proudly maintain our commitment to spend 0.7% of GNI on international development.’
She added: ‘I have been in this House for nearly a quarter of a century, during that time I have never voted against a three-line whip from my party. We made a promise to the poorest people in the world, this government has broken that promise, this motion means that that promise may be broken for years to come.
‘With deep regret I will vote against the motion today.’
Tory MP for Sutton Coldfield, Andrew Mitchell, said: ‘There is a straight choice and it is between rejecting the motion tonight, in which case the government will restore 0.7% from next year, or accept this so-called Treasury compromise which is no compromise at all.
‘It is a fiscal trap for the unwary. First of all it is quite possible that these conditions will never be met.
‘There has only been one occasion in the last two decades in 2001 when these conditions were met. A vote for the government tonight is a vote to end the 0.7%.
‘This is a trap for the unwary and a tribute to the Chancellor’s silver tongue.
‘So I will certainly tonight be voting against this motion and against the government today and I will do so with absolute conviction and a profound disappointment.’
David Davis, Tory MP for Haltemprice and Howden, said: ‘The government argues that these cuts are temporary, but death is never temporary.
‘I consider myself an economic Thatcherite, but yet when it comes to choosing between money and lives I always choose lives. This House should remember and what should be at the forefront of every member’s mind today is that this is a vote where we are choosing whether or not to intervene to save lives. That is the key issue.’
The Tory Chancellor Rishi Sunak said to jeers: ‘This decision is categorically not a rejection of our global responsibilities.’
He went on: ‘There is no question of our commitment to overseas aid, the only question is when do we return to the point from which we departed.
‘The motion before the House puts beyond all doubt that we will do so when two clear objective tests have been met. Our national debt is falling and we are no longer borrowing for day to day spending.’
He was constantly heckled when he claimed: ‘These tests are in line with the approach that is housed in our manifesto and in our budget. They are both practical and realistic.’