Boris Johnson set for heated clash as rebels gear up to strike down manifesto U-turn bid

Foreign aid cuts: 'Tory rebels could defeat bill' says expert

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Boris Johnson is set on a collision course with his own backbenchers over the Government’s decision to cut international aid from 0.7 percent to 0.5 percent of national income. The 0.7 pledge was passed into law in 2015, but Rishi Sunak announced the cut in November, arguing that the costs of the coronavirus pandemic made the figure unsustainable. Tory rebels including Theresa May are now demanding the Government return to the commitment, included in the party’s 2019 election manifesto, and are seeking to force a vote on the issue on Monday.

BBC political correspondent Chris Mason told BBC Breakfast that the outcome of the dispute was not yet clear.

He said that there were: “Two things to look out for today.

“Firstly, does this vote actually happen? Is it granted by the speaker of the House of Commons?

“And if it is, do the rebels, the former Prime Minister Theresa May among them, have the numbers to defeat the government given that Boris Johnson has a big majority?

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He added: “So what then are the arguments on the two sides?

“Well, the rebels say the government should be committed to what it promised in the election manifesto back in 2019 to spend 0.7 percent of our national income on international aid.

“The government says ‘look the Covid costs are coming so we’re revising that number down to half a percent of national income until we can afford to raise it again.’

“And plenty of the government’s supporters say cutting international aid, for now, is popular.”

Conservative rebels and opposition parties have voiced their frustration that the decision to cut foreign aid was not put to a vote in parliament.

They are instead seeking to introduce an amendment to the Advanced Research and Invention Agency (ARIA) Bill, which will create the high-risk, high-reward innovation body masterminded by Dominic Cummings, which would reverse the decision.

As ARIA will be funded in part by the aid budget, the bill falls in the same remit as international aid, but it will be up to Speaker of the House Lindsay Hoyle to decide if the amendment is relevant enough to be voted on. 

If introduced, the amendment would force the government to pay the £4 billion cut for foreign aid through ARIA.

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More than 30 Conservative MPs have publicly said they will support the amendment which would reintroduce the 0.7 percent commitment by next year.

They include former aid secretary Andrew Mitchell, who introduced the amendment, former foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt, and former Brexit secretary David Davis.

With all opposition parties also supporting the amendment, the Prime Minister faces the prospect of his third parliamentary defeat since the 2019 general election.

While Mr Johnson holds a majority of over 80, it is thought that more Tory MPs that have not made a public declaration will back the amendment.

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