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The Tory finance minister is set to axe the £15billion a year spend to help fund the UK’s huge coronavirus crisis bill – despite a growing Tory backlash. MPs had expected the move to be temporary but reports have said Mr Sunak will plough ahead with legislation to “permanently abolish” the foreign aid target.
The cut will be announced at tomorrow’s spending review by Mr Sunak, just hours after senior Tories criticised the proposal.
BBC News’ diplomatic correspondent James Landale tweeted: “The BBC has learned the government is planning to pass new laws to cut Britain’s overseas aid budget, raising fears among MPs the reduction announced in tomorrow’s spending review could be permanent.
“The expectation was that there would be a temporary, one-off cut to help pay down the deficit. The idea was to reduce aid spending next year to just 0.5 per cent of national income, down from the legally binding target of 0.7 per cent. 2/9
“But I have been told Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s reforms will require new legislation, which MPs believe implies a permanent cut to the aid target – or even its abolition.”
The UK has a legal commitment to spend 0.7 percent of its economy’s GDP on foreign projects and some of the world’s richest countries, including China and India, have benefited from taxpayers’ money.
But Chancellor Sunak is widely expected to pare back the UK’s commitment to spend 0.7 percent of national income on overseas aid to 0.5 percent in tomorrow’s spending review.
The money saved could also be used to fund Foreign Office and Ministry of Defence projects.
Boris Johnson’s Government has faced a rebellion in the ranks over plans to cut foreign aid, with Tory MPs warning Mr Sunak against the move.
Ruth Davidson, former leader of the Scottish Conservatives, said the reduction was a “counterproductive choice – morally, economically and politically”.
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Writing in The Times, she said: “Barely a week after a big defence announcement, arguing that ‘Global Britain’ had been in retreat for too long and pledging to better shoulder our global defence responsibilities, that same ‘Global Britain’ turns around and says we’ll walk away from our humanitarian and development ones.”
While Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby has also made a significant intervention.
Mr Welby told The Observer: “A global recovery from the economic consequences of the pandemic requires a global response. Keeping our aid commitment is a strong signal that the UK is a reliable partner for long-term economic, social, environmental and educational advancement across the globe.”
It comes after meddling former Prime Minister’s Tony Blair and David Cameron ordered Mr Johnson to think again.
The former Labour premier, who served as Prime Minister 13 years ago, has teamed up with David Cameron to warn the Tory leader the move would undermine his presidency of the G7.
Mr Blair said foreign aid – and the 0.7 target – had been a “great British soft power achievement”, saving millions of lives in Africa by reducing deaths from malaria and HIV, and cutting it would be a “profound strategic mistake”.
The spending on aid is related to gross national income which, in 2019, was £2.17 trillion, meaning a drop from 0.7 percent to 0.5 percent would account for more than £4 billion.
The Prime Minister’s official spokesman this month drew attention to the fact that the legislation enshrining the 0.7 percent target in UK law might not always be met.
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