Top Tory MP warns against international aid budget cut

The government’s decision to cut the UK’s budget for international aid will deprive half a million girls in poorer nations of funding for their education and damage the global fight against diseases including Covid-19, says a senior Tory MP.

Writing in the Observer, the former Conservative minister Caroline Nokes, who chairs the House of Commons select committee on women and equalities, says the move would be a “massive blow” to those dealt the worse hands in life and amount to “the wrong policy at the worst possible time”.

Her strongly worded intervention comes as other Tory MPs opposed to the action – which breaches a commitment in the 2019 Conservative election manifesto – seem increasingly confident of defeating legislation to impose the cut, expected to be introduced in the House of Commons early in the new year.

With all opposition parties expected to vote against, and around 40 Tories already having expressed disquiet, the government now faces an uphill struggle to force the plan on to the statute book.

Caroline Nokes
Caroline Nokes says cut would be a ‘massive blow’. Photograph: Chris McAndrew/UK Parliament

Speaking in the Commons last month, the chancellor of the exchequer, Rishi Sunak, said that sticking to spending 0.7% of GDP on overseas aid was “difficult to justify to the British people” at a time when the pandemic was piling so much pressure on domestic spending.

Sunak said aid spending in 2020-21 would be cut to 0.5%, around £10bn, although he hoped the 0.7% target could be restored when the UK’s finances allowed it.

In a sign of an increasingly rebellious mood on the Tory backbenches, Nokes says she and her committee are “not afraid to take the prime minister to task when his policies fall short in providing for the marginalised and under-represented”.

Imposing the cut at a time when the pandemic is threatening the poorest communities is not acceptable, she says. “With news of a new variant of Covid-19 sweeping through South Africa, this looks increasingly like the wrong policy at the worst possible time. The truth is that we can’t beat Covid anywhere unless we beat it everywhere.”

Among other senior Tories who have already expressed unhappiness at the proposed cut are former international aid secretary Andrew Mitchell, chair of the foreign affairs select committee, Tom Tugendhat and former health secretary Jeremy Hunt.

Nokes says the Tories’ “good track record” on supporting girls’ education through aid programmes is in danger. “Reducing our aid budget by a third will mean supporting around half a million fewer girls through education a year.

“Coming a year after the budget has already significantly shrunk due to the impact of the pandemic on our economy, this means that the UK can no longer put its money where its mouth is in ensuring that girls get the same opportunities as boys, and it’s fair to assume that the manifesto promise on girls’ education will go the same way as the one on 0.7%.”

Mitchell said recently that he would not like to be the minister having to defend the plan in the House of Commons. “It would be an extraordinary decision at the very point at which Britain is about to take over the chairmanship of the G7, with a new administration in the White House which will strongly champion the international system. It will diminish us on the world stage,” he said. Cross-party groups of peers in the House of Lords are also expected to mount stiff opposition to the plan.


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