Senior Tories fear £4bn cut to overseas aid will be made permanent

By Michael Savage

Senior Tories fear that the cut to Britain’s aid budget will become permanent, amid a growing campaign inside and outside parliament to reverse the decision.

Conservatives opposed to the move are already vowing to “humiliate” the government by forcing it to stand by its manifesto commitment to spend 0.7% of GDP on overseas aid – a vow chancellor Rishi Sunak said he would breach in his review of public spending last week. He announced that £4bn would effectively be cut from the aid budget by reducing it to 0.5%, despite pleas from Tories and the archbishop of Canterbury.

Ministers have suggested that the move will be temporary, but concerned Tories now believe that the 0.7% pledge is unlikely to be restored. While the target is enshrined in law, it can be avoided temporarily in special economic circumstances. However, the decision by ministers to attempt to change the law has convinced many Tory rebels that the pledge is under threat for the longer term.

Former foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt said: “If this is really temporary there is no need to change the legislation: but changing law cannot mean anything other than a longer term change in priorities. But what makes it unlikely to be reversed is the fact that, sadly, the cut will be popular.”

A well-organised campaign is already building to defend the 0.7% pledge. Former chief whip Andrew Mitchell, who is also a former international development secretary, is a key figure. Mitchell said: “It’s a relatively small amount of money in the overall scheme of things for us, but it’s an enormous amount of money for the world’s poorest people. We’ve got expertise, we’ve got commitment, we can harness the great passion that we saw over the Make Poverty History campaign. We are determined to make the government rethink.”

Dominic Raab, the foreign secretary, has already committed to holding a vote. He told MPs last week: “We have taken legal advice on this. It is very clear that if we cannot see a path back to 0.7% in the immediate foreseeable future then the legislation would be required.”

Another figure involved in the rebellion said Boris Johnson would ultimately face the embarrassment of a Commons defeat. “We are going to confront and, I hope, defeat the government on this. We’ve got the fact that almost the entire House of Commons stood and won their election on a manifesto which included an absolute commitment to the 0.7%. Tories in the Lords will oppose this. We’ve got the ability to mount this rebellion that’s being run by a former chief whip. He can count. Boris will be made to keep his promise by the Commons. The humiliation for the government will be immense.”

While the number of rebels is being closely guarded, some said they were already “pretty confident” that the government would be forced to rethink when a vote on the issue arrives in the new year.