The Standard learned the Prime Minister was calling some Tory MPs in person to ask them not to back a rebel vote that would force the Government to restore spending to the legal minimum of 0.7 per cent of national output.
Chancellor Rishi Sunak was said to have called round potential rebels on Sunday, but leaders of the revolt claimed MPs had stood firm. Westminster insiders confirmed the PM was among ministers telephoning backbenchers on Monday.
Senior rebels piled pressure on the Government to give way, with former Cabinet minister David Davis warning that “thousands will die, large numbers of them children” if the cuts are not stopped.
Former Labour prime minister Gordon Brown weighed in, saying: “It’s a life-and-death issue, we’re actually deciding who lives and who dies.”
With rebels saying they are confident of the numbers to inflict a landmark defeat, the Government was pinning its hopes on persuading Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle that the rebel amendment should not be called to a vote, on the grounds that it is tagged onto government legislation needed to set up an Advanced Research and Invention Agency. If passed, the vote would instruct the Government to restore the aid budget from January 1 to 0.7 per cent from its reduced level of 0.5 per cent.
Mr Davis, the former Brexit Secretary said the cut meant 10 million people losing access to clean water, and a quarter of a million people facing potential starvation due to reductions in food support.
“No other G7 country is cutting its aid in this way,” he told the Today programme. “It is going to have devastating consequences across the world.”
He added: “Morally, this is a devastating thing for us to have done.”
Former Work and Pensions Secretary Stephen Crabb announced on Twitter: “I will vote in favour of the 0.7 aid commitment today… Important & high quality work is being slashed at worst possible time.”
Mr Brown told BBC Breakfast: “If we withdraw the money for vaccination, it’s the equivalent of pulling away the needle from a kid or from an adult who is sick who needs the vaccination.
“You know, there has been an all-party consensus, all parties, for 25 years that we need 0.7 per cent, we need to play our role in the world by being one of the leaders in aid and, really, this is not the right time to pull things away because basically this is when the poorest countries need help most.”
He warned the Government not to pay for Covid vaccinations for poor countries by taking more money from the reduced aid budget.
For Labour’s front bench, shadow foreign secretary Lisa Nandy has said aid cuts were “short-sighted” and not in Britain’s interest.
Meanwhile, a minister promised that the cuts would be “temporary” without spelling out what that would mean. Solicitor General Lucy Frazer told Sky News: “What we’ve said is of course international aid needs to be spent but we’re going to temporarily cease the 0.7 per cent and bring it back when fiscal circumstances allow.”
She said the pandemic had forced the Government to make “tough decisions and that’s why we’ve said we’ll temporarily reduce the amount that we’ll spend”.
Ms Frazer emphasised that Britain was the third biggest aid giver even after the cuts.