PM ‘all but certain’ to avoid Tory rebellion over cut to foreign aid budget, sources say

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Boris Johnson has narrowly avoided a rebellion by some of his own Conservative MPs over cuts to the foreign aid budget, Sky News understands.

Thirty Tories, including former prime minister Theresa May and four other cabinet ministers, were backing a rebellion against the £4bn reduction and had hoped to force a vote on the matter.

But a Labour source has told Sky News that it is "all but certain" that House of Commons clerks have ruled that the amendment, which was proposed to the Advanced Research and Innovation Agency Bill, is not in scope.

Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson attends a news conference following a meeting with NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg (not seen) at Downing Street in London, Britain June 2, 2021. Justin Tallis/Pool vi REUTERS

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Thirty Tories looked likely to rebel against the government on the matter

Under parliamentary procedure, Commons Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle gets to decide whether to select amendments and allow votes on them based on the advice of his clerks.

The proposed amendment intended to make the government commit to reinstating the 0.7% target from next year – from the funding for this new "high-risk" science agency which he obscure legislation would create – if it is not met through alternative means.

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But Conservative MP and former international development secretary said the Speaker had yet to decide whether to accept the tabled amendment and allow a vote to take place this evening.

Mr Mitchell told Sky News: "I don't know where this information is coming from, I think it is being spun, but I have just literally come out of a meeting with Mr Speaker where we have been putting our viewpoint to him – and I know that Mr Speaker has not yet made a decision."

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Britain's aid spending was cut by the chancellor last November in what was intended to be a temporary move, but without a vote in parliament. Mr Sunak told MPs at the time that keeping it at the higher level "cannot be justified to the British people".

Andrew Mitchell MP

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Conservative former international development secretary Andrew Mitchell said Commons Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle has still not decided whether to select the rebel amendment

One Tory rebel said: "There is a whiff of disrespect for the House of Commons that the government was so keen to avoid a vote on the cut. We are supposed to be a democracy."

Speaking to Sky News on Monday, Conservative former minister David Davis said the cut was "not necessary", adding that it "does not make economic sense".

"As you have heard from Lisa Nandy and others it will undermine our position – a very, very hard won position with so-called soft power, our respect in the world if you like – it will undermine that too.

"But for me, the issue is about lives, children's lives, and frankly, even if it was an unpopular policy I would still stand up for it.

"I don't want to be a member of a government or a supporter of a government that is effectively deciding to lead to tens of thousands of deaths of small children," he said.

Ex-Brexit Secretary David Davis MP

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Conservative former minister David Davis said a cut to foreign aid is 'not necessary'

Just under £10bn is to be allocated to departments for foreign aid spending in 2021-22, down from more than £14bn in 2019-20.

Labour's shadow foreign secretary Lisa Nandy also called on the PM to change his mind over the matter.

"He (Boris Johnson) could change his mind, he could reverse this, he could just admit that cutting global aid in the middle of a pandemic is the wrong this to do.

"It is short-sighted, it is not in Britain's interest and he could solve this very, very quickly," she told Sky News.

But Solicitor General Lucy Frazer defended the government's position.

"Last year we were the third largest donor globally in terms of international aid, so we really do pay a significant amount to help the world generally.

Ethiopian refugees at the Um-Rakoba camp on the border in Sudan. File pic

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Just under £10bn is to be allocated to departments for foreign aid spending in 2021-22

"And even without the 0.7% this year, we will be investing £10bn – and that is really important.

"But we are in the middle of a pandemic and it is really important that we support the effort here as well," she told Sky News.

Polling last year suggested two-thirds of the public backed a cut to foreign aid, due to financial challenges at home.

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