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The government is facing a brewing backbench rebellion and ministerial resignations over its controversial plans to scrap the UK’s pledge to give 0.7% of GDP in international aid.
Baroness Liz Sugg, minister for overseas territories and sustainable development at the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO), submitted her resignation following the move.
In a letter to the Prime Minister, she said it was “fundamentally wrong” to abandon the commitment, adding that it should be “kept in the tough times as well as the good”.
“Given the link between our development spend and the health of our economy, the economic downturn has already led to significant cuts this year and I do not believe we should reduce our support further at a time of unprecedented global crises,” she continued.
“I cannot support or defend this decision, it is therefore right that I tend my resignation.”
The plan has also sparked anger from a number of backbench Tory MPs, with one former minister claiming the cut could lead to 100,000 preventable deaths.
Rishi Sunak confirmed in his Spending Review on Wednesday that the UK would be reducing the commitment 0.7% of GDP international aid commitment to 0.5% following the crippling effects of the coronavirus crisis on the economy.
He told MPs: “During a domestic fiscal emergency, when we need to prioritise our limited resources on jobs and public services.
“Sticking rigidly to spending 0.7% of our national income on overseas aid, is difficult to justify to the British people, especially when we’re seeing the highest peacetime levels of borrowing on record.”
It is understood that the government would increase the level of aid spending back its original level in the future once the economic situation improved.
But a Treasury source suggested that MPs were unlikely to get a chance to vote on the aid cut, as the law enshrining the commitment allows for it to be adjusted in challenging circumstances.
Former international development secretary Andrew Mitchell told PoliticsHome yesterday he hoped to lead a rebellion against the changes to aid.
Speaking in the Commons following the chancellor’s statement, Mr Mitchell told Mr Sunak the decision “will be the cause of 100,000 preventable deaths, mainly among children.
“This is a choice I for one am not prepared to make and none of us in this House will be able to look our children in the eye and claim we did not know what we were voting for,” he added.
Fellow backbenchers Peter Bottomley, Tobias Ellwood and Pauline Latham also spoke out against the move and expressed their intention to oppose it.
The Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby has joined criticised the government, writing on Twitter that cutting aid was “shameful and wrong”.
“It’s contrary to numerous government promises and its manifesto. I join others in urging MPs to reject it for the good of the poorest, and the UK’s own reputation and interest,” he added.