'A commitment to the world's poorest': government urged to preserve aid budget

A “substantial number” of Conservatives may rebel against the government if it tries to push through a cut in foreign aid, an MP has warned.

Anthony Mangnall, Conservative MP for Totnes and a member of the One Nation Caucus of Tory MPs, said that many of his colleagues may vote against the government if it tries to slash overseas development funding in next week’s comprehensive spending review. 

Reports earlier this week suggested that Chancellor Rishi Sunak would like to see the proportion spent on foreign aid cut from 0.7 per cent of gross national income to 0.5 per cent to plug a hole in the nation’s finances caused by Covid-19.

Any change in the budget would have to be agreed by Parliament. 

“There are a sizeable amount of people who think that this is an important link, not just to the world’s poorest people, but a link to [Joe] Biden, to America and to the UK standing on a platform in which we are indisputably a world leader,” Mr Mangnall told the Telegraph.

He added: “I find it very hard to imagine a global Britain without a very prominent development budget and it’s not aid for trade or trade as aid, it should be a standalone issue that promotes the moral obligation of the UK to help the world’s poorest but also to tackle some of the most difficult problems such as gender based violence or preventing sexual violence in conflict.”

Some fear that the funding could be diverted to defence after set out a four-year £16bn defence spending plan on Thursday.

In a House of Commons debate on the issue Conservative MP and former international development secretary Andrew Mitchell urged the government to safeguard the aid budget.

“Britain’s development leadership and standing by our promise to the poorest of 0.7 per cent, which was a manifesto commitment, will stand [Mr Johnson] in very good stead as he assumes the chairmanship of the G7 on January 1, and promote the important values of global Britain.”

Ben Wallace, defence secretary, told Sky News the government was not “abandoning the battlefield of international aid”, but said “decisions on the numbers” will be revealed by the Chancellor next week.

Mr Mangnall acknowledged that many of his fellow Conservative MPs would like to see aid money reallocated but he said there were a substantial number who “would be very uncomfortable seeing that 0.7 per cent cent reduced”. 

“There are many of us who recognise the positive impact of our development budget. The commitment to 0.7 per cent was raised on the doorstep and was not only a manifesto commitment but a commitment to the world’s poorest,” said Mr Mangnall.

Mr Mangnall spoke to the Telegraph as a coalition of nearly 200 charities, including Save the Children, Unicef and the Federation of Women’s Institutes, called on the government to uphold its manifesto commitment.

Kevin Watkins, chief executive of Save the Children, said: “[A cut] would deeply damage manifesto commitments to help end preventable child deaths and get every girl an education. The UK faces real financial challenges; but cutting aid would do huge harm to the world’s vulnerable people while making little difference to the Government’s budget overall,” he said. 

In a separate intervention, Romilly Greenhill, UK director of the One Campaign, also called for a rethink. 

“Reducing the aid budget would be cutting off our nose to spite our own face. It’s money intended to fight killer disease, so doing it in the middle of a pandemic would be a terrible idea.  

“It would harm people at home as well as others abroad. has shown how we’re all interconnected, and the virus clearly doesn’t respect borders. We need to support others to help them strengthen their health systems, as it protects us too.”  

Protect yourself and your family by learning more about Global Health Security

Read original article here.