PMQs: Johnson says UK is ‘one of biggest donors overseas’
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On Monday, rebel Conservatives attempted to reverse cuts to foreign aid spending with an amendment, but the measure was overruled after Speaker Lindsay Hoyle said it was out of scope. Last year, the Prime Minister’s Government said it would cut overseas aid spending from 0.7 percent of gross national income (GNI) to 0.5 percent, amounting to a reduction of about £4 billion.
Richard Holden, Tory MP for North West Durham, spoke to BBC Newsnight host Emily Maitlis about the planned cuts.
He said his fellow Tory MPs “already voted for this change in the budget” earlier this year.
When asked about today’s planned emergency vote in the issue, the MP added: “We’re talking about a lot of money here.
“£4 billion a year. We’re already one of the biggest donors in the world – we’ll still be the third biggest donor in the G7, far higher as a percentage of our GNI than the United States.”
Ms Maitlis pointed out that “the mechanism is already there” to reduce foreign aid spending, as the UK only pays a percentage of GNI rather than a specific figure.
Mr Holden replied: “I think the truth is Emily, we’re seeing an unprecedented one-in-300-year hit on the UK finances in one year.
“£4 billion is not a small amount of money, it’s about a quarter of all what we spend on policing in England and Wales on an annual basis, so we’re talking about a serious amount of money here.
“And while we’re recovering from Covid, we need to be ensuring that cash, where possible, is being spent in the UK and that deficit is being controlled.
“If we’re going to spend this money as others are suggesting, then they need to tell us where it’s going to come from.”
MPs including former Prime Minister Theresa May and former international development secretary Andrew Mitchell plan to rebel against Mr Johnson’s cut to overseas aid spending.
Yesterday, rebel MPs wanted to amend legislation setting up the Advanced Research and Invention Agency – a new body designed to conduct “high risk” research – to force making up a shortfall from the 0.7 percent target from January 2022.
Sir Lindsay said he shared the “frustration” of MPs about the lack of a vote to date, but after consulting officials, he decided their amendment was outside the scope of the bill, meaning under Commons rules it could not be debated.
Mr Mitchell, who led the amendment push, 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.”
The MPs have 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 percent commitment in 2022.
Due to the coronavirus pandemic, the UK’s gross domestic product (GDP) has suffered a severe contraction.
In the first quarter of this year, GDP contracted by 1.5 percent.
In March, GDP grew by 2.1 percent but remained 5.9 percent below its pre-pandemic peak.
Chancellor Rishi Sunak said of the figures: “Despite a difficult start to this year, economic growth in March is a promising sign of things to come.”
Yesterday saw cases continue to climb in the UK, with 5,683 recorded alongside one death within 28 days of a positive coronavirus test.
In total, the UK has now seen 4,522,476 cases and 127,841 death.
Covid vaccines are now available to those over 25 years old, with another 127,345 first doses and 259,941 second doses administered yesterday.
In total, the UK has administered 40,460,576 first doses and 27,921,294 second doses.
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