Boris Johnson faces huge Tory rebellion over cuts to foreign aid

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Andrew Mitchell, the Conservative former chief whip, is leading the challenge - GEOFF PUGH
Andrew Mitchell, the Conservative former chief whip, is leading the challenge - GEOFF PUGH

Boris Johnson is facing a major Commons rebellion over his policy to slash foreign aid.

Andrew Mitchell, the Conservative former chief whip, is leading a parliamentary push to ensure new legislation make up the shortfall left by the cut.

A further 14 Tory backbenchers, including Jeremy Hunt, the former foreign secretary, and Sir Desmond Swayne, the former aid minister, have backed the amendment so far. The number could grow given the backlash created by the policy in recent months, raising the prospect of a humbling Commons defeat for the Prime Minister.

Mr Johnson has been criticised by MPs on all sides for temporarily reducing foreign aid from 0.7 per cent of national income to 0.5 per cent and thereby shelving his 2019 manifesto commitment to maintain spending at the higher rate.

Mr Mitchell has tabled an amendment to the Advanced Research and Invention Agency (Aria) Bill, legislation that establishes a new "high-risk, high-reward" research agency backed with £800 million of taxpayers' cash to explore new ideas.

The explanatory note of Mr Mitchell's amendment to the Bill 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 would require Aria to make up any shortfall in that proportion from January 2022."

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

The Government has blamed economic damage caused by the pandemic for its aid decision. It expects just under £10 billion to be allocated to departments for aid spending in 2021/22.

Critics of the policy believe the cut will result in tens of thousands of deaths in other parts of the world.

Caroline Nokes, the Conservative former minister, one of the amendment signatories, told ITV's Peston: "I feel really strongly that we legislated for the 0.7 per cent commitment and the cuts are affecting women and girls."

Asked if the amendment would be binding on the Government, Ms Nokes said: "I think it's very unclear at the moment and what we've seen the Government do so far is what I'd describe as cuts by stealth."

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