Will foreign aid bill bounce back to £14billion?

Will foreign aid bill bounce back to £14billion? Slashing of 0.7% spending target to 0.5% may last only one year to avoid Tory revolt

  • Ministers said they would change law to lower the target to spend 0.7% to 0.5%
  • This would have allowed them to slash handouts by £4bn to around £10billion
  • Government is considering alternatives such as missing the 0.7 per cent target as a one-off this year

Boris Johnson’s plan to cut the foreign aid budget is set to be dramatically scaled back over fears of a Tory rebellion.

Ministers had announced they would change the law to lower the target to spend 0.7 per cent of national income on international development to 0.5 per cent.

This would have allowed them to slash handouts by £4billion to around £10billion and keep them at a lower level for years.

But amid warnings that the proposals, which would breach a 2019 Tory election manifesto pledge, will be blocked in both houses of Parliament, the Government is considering alternatives such as missing the 0.7 per cent target as a one-off this year and returning to it in 2022.

Ministers had announced they would change the law to lower the target to spend 0.7 per cent of national income on international development to 0.5 per cent. Pictured: Dominic Raab

This means that the foreign aid bill could jump back to around £14billion in just a year.

Officials are studying whether the one-off cut could be done through a loophole which allows the target to be missed for reasons such as the economic situation without the need for a new law. Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab had previously discounted this option.

As he announced the proposed aid cuts last November, Mr Raab told MPs a new law was needed as the Government was not ‘able to rely just on the limited derogation written into [existing] legislation’.

Sir Peter Bottomley, the longest continuously serving MP, said he will ‘work with anyone across’ the Commons to ‘fight to maintain’ his party’s 0.7 per cent pledge on overseas aid

He said: ‘We have taken advice very carefully on this, and it is very clear that if we cannot see a path back to 0.7 per cent in the foreseeable, immediate future and we cannot plan for that, then the legislation would require us to change it. We would almost certainly face legal challenge if we do not very carefully follow it.’

The Prime Minister, Mr Raab and Chancellor Rishi Sunak are to decide in the coming weeks whether to introduce a new law as planned so the aid budget can be lowered for several years, or whether to just reduce it this year. If they decide on the latter, it is understood they will claim the improving economic picture is the reason for the U-turn.

The Daily Mail revealed last month that the Government had postponed a vote on cutting foreign aid to avoid a clash with Tory backbenchers ahead of the G7 summit in June. Ministers are keen to avoid the embarrassment of a row about Britain’s place in the world as Mr Johnson prepares to welcome world leaders, including US president Joe Biden, to the Cornwall summit.

Senior Tories including Theresa May and David Davis warned they will join a revolt led by former international development secretary Andrew Mitchell if the Government attempts to bring in new legislation. Mr Mitchell has claimed the cuts will be the ’cause of 100,000 preventable deaths, mainly among children’.

Sir Peter Bottomley, the longest continuously serving MP, said he will ‘work with anyone across’ the Commons to ‘fight to maintain’ his party’s 0.7 per cent pledge on overseas aid.

In a Mail article earlier this year, Mrs May warned Britain would be ‘abandoning our position of global moral leadership’ by cutting the aid target. ‘Whatever the rhetoric we deploy, it is our actions which count. So, we should do nothing which signals a retreat from our global commitments,’ she wrote.

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