Speaker rejects Tory rebels’ foreign aid amendment | Foreign policy

An attempt by rebel Conservative MPs to reverse foreign aid cuts has been thwarted after the House of Commons Speaker ruled their amendment was out of scope, but said the government must bring a vote on the issue.

Andrew Mitchell, the former international development secretary who led the rebel push, said he had received clear advice from the clerks that the amendment would be acceptable and that the rebels would have won by a majority of at least nine MPs.

However, the Speaker, Sir Lindsay Hoyle, said he had deemed that the amendment was not in scope of the bill, saying he had received advice from senior clerks. He said the government should bring the matter separately to the house, to test the will of MPs.

Hoyle said he would accept a request for an emergency debate on the issue – expected to take place on Tuesday – but any vote would be non-binding. He said he expected the government to quickly bring forward a vote on the decision to make the cut and hinted he would facilitate a binding vote if the government refused to bring one.

“I hope the government will take on that challenge and give this house the due respect that it deserves,” he said. “And if not, we will then look to find other ways in which we can move forward.”

One former minister said that rebels would apply for an emergency debate but also bring their amendment again “at the next possible opportunity … All this does is delay the inevitable. They know we have the numbers.”

It is understood supporters in the Lords are also examining how the issue could be brought to a vote.

Mitchell told the Commons: “The government frontbench are treating the Houses of Parliament and the Commons with disrespect. Had we secured a vote on the new clause tonight I can assure the house it would have secured the assent of the house by not less than a majority of nine and probably around 20 votes.

“In the week of British chairmanship of the G7 the government’s failure to address this issue will undisputedly mean that hundreds of thousands of avoidable deaths will result. It is already attracting criticism from all round the other members of the G7.”

The planned rebellion, backed by at least 30 Conservative MPs including the former prime minister Theresa May and led by Mitchell, followed the announcement last year that the amount of money spent on overseas aid would be cut from 0.7% of gross national income to 0.5%, amounting to a reduction of about £4bn.

Other supporters included the former ministers Jeremy Hunt, Karen Bradley, Tobias Ellwood, Johnny Mercer and David Davis, senior backbenchers including Bob Neill and Bob Blackman, and the 2019 intake member Anthony Mangnall.

However, MPs had made clear they hoped to reach a compromise with the government, saying the amendment would be pulled if there was agreement to restore the 0.7% commitment in 2022.

Earlier, Mitchell said he believed his amendment was a “totally-in-order new clause that reaffirms the promise that we all made just 18 months, every single one of us elected to the House of Commons, the promise we made not to cut aid”.

He said: “Throughout all these seven months, the government has not been willing to bring a vote to the House of Commons, because they’re frightened they’re going to lose it, and I think they’re right, I think they’re very likely to lose it because those of us who made the solemn promise are not going to allow the books in Britain to be balanced on the backs of the poorest people in the world.”

In the run-up to the announcement, wavering Tory MPs were called by the prime minister and by the chief whip, Mark Spencer, and one Tory said Spencer and the Commons leader, Jacob Rees-Mogg, were applying “pressure” over the selection of the amendment.

Ministers have said the aid cut is necessary as a temporary measure – though they did not say for how long it would be in place – because of the economic damage from the coronavirus pandemic.

Johnson’s spokesman refused to say what personal lobbying of prospective rebels the prime minister had been doing behind the scenes. He added ministers were committed to returning to 0.7% spending levels “as soon as the fiscal situation allows”.




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