Boris Johnson is facing a revolt by senior Tory MPs over his plan to cut overseas aid, in an ambush that comes just days before he hosts a G7 summit focused on the developing world.
The MPs, led by former Tory international development secretary Andrew Mitchell, want to reverse the prime minister’s plan to axe about £4bn from the aid budget, a move that breaks a Conservative manifesto commitment.
Former Tory defence minister Tobias Ellwood said on Thursday he was “cautiously confident” that up to 45 Tory rebels could oppose the move, potentially enough to defeat the government in a vote next Monday.
Ellwood told the BBC’s Today programme that Britain should be “an exemplar”. The defence select committee chair said: “Here we are hosting a summit to address these issues but choosing to cut the aid budget.”
Johnson now faces a battle with his own party in a crucial period for his premiership: next week he hosts the G7 in Cornwall, where leaders of developed economies will discuss issues including vaccinating developing countries and climate change.
Downing Street argues it was forced to abandon the manifesto promise to meet the legally binding target of spending 0.7 per cent of national income on overseas aid because the pandemic had stretched public finances.
Chancellor Rishi Sunak cut that level to 0.5 per cent, a change that amounts to about £4bn, forcing Britain to scale back aid programmes in Africa and other parts of the world.
Lisa Nandy, shadow foreign secretary, said the government should “do the right thing and reverse this cut”.
The MPs have tabled an amendment that would force the government to meet the legally binding target, in a parliamentary ambush co-ordinated by Mitchell during a Commons recess.
The rebels include some big party names including former cabinet ministers David Davis, Jeremy Hunt and Karen Bradley and select committee chairs including Tom Tugendhat, Ellwood and Neil Parish.
Mitchell has been looking for a way to allow MPs to vote on the government plan; he has alighted on tabling an amendment to a bill setting up a new Advanced Research and Invention Agency.
His technical amendment, if selected by the House of Commons Speaker for debate and then backed by MPs, would reinstate the 0.7 per cent target into law. The move was first reported by the BBC.
Opinion polls have shown that the cut, which Downing Street has said would be temporary, is popular with voters.