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Plans to force the government to reverse its cut to foreign aid have been dashed after Commons Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle ruled the amendment by Tory rebels cannot be voted on.
The decision has helped Boris Johnson avoid a potentially embarrassing defeat ahead of hosting this week’s G7 summit in Cornwall due to Parliamentary procedure.
Dozens of MPs gave their backing to insert a clause into legislation creating a new Advanced Research and Invention Agency (ARIA), which would force the new body to make up the funding so the UK stuck to its pledge to spend 0.7% of GDP on aid.
But in a statement ahead of this evening’s debate, Hoyle said the amendment was “outside the scope of the bill” and therefore he could not select it for a division.
However the Speaker criticised the government for not giving MPs a chance to vote on approving the change to the foreign aid target to 0.5% for the following year.
“I expect that the government should find a way to have this important matter debated [and] allow the House to formally to take an effective decision,” he said.
Hoyle added: “I share the House’s frustration, it is quite right that this House should not continue to be taken for granted, but we must do it in the right way.”
The rebels, who includes ex-PM Theresa May and a number of other senior party figures, could also try and find another Parliamentary route to try and reverse the cut to the legally-enshrined commitment, such as applying for an emergency debate.
The group, which is understood to be large enough to overturn Boris Johnson’s majority of 85, are unhappy about the decision to ditch the 0.7% figure, which was in the 2019 Conservative manifesto.
Ministers have blamed the move on the impact the coronavirus pandemic has had on the economy, and say it will go back up again in the future.
“If you are going to kill people with this, which I think is going to be the outcome in many areas, we need to reverse it immediately”
— BBC Radio 4 Today (@BBCr4today) June 7, 2021
Ex-Cabinet minister David Davis, who is helping organise the rebellion, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “Morally, this is a devastating thing for us to have done.”
He said the “harmful” cuts would damage programmes which help provide clean water around the world and “thousands will die”.
“No other G7 country is cutting its aid in this way. It is going to have devastating consequences across the world,” the former Brexit secretary added.
“Historically, I am a critic of aid spending, but doing it this way is really so harmful.”
Writing in the Guardian, fellow ringleader Andrew Mitchell said: “The eyes of the world are truly upon us.
“But in this moment Britain is found wanting, because we have removed a foundational piece of our own global leadership.
“Britain is the only G7 nation cutting aid this year.”
Earlier the solicitor general Lucy Frazer defended the decision to reduce the overseas aid budget, insisting the law did allow for the temporary reduction.
She told Times Radio: ”The pandemic has forced us to make tough decisions and that’s why we’ve said we’ll temporarily reduce the amount that we’ll spend.
“It does say in the legislation that we commit to 0.7% but that can be varied if the fiscal or economic circumstances suggest that it should, and that is the circumstances we find ourselves in.”
But a dozen cross-party Parliamentary groups, all of those working on development related issues, have signed a letter to Johnson calling on him to reverse the aid cuts.
Lord McConnell, co-chair of the APPG on the UN Global Goals for Sustainable Development: “Decisive leadership from the UK government this week could be the catalyst to protect our world from pandemics and secure an economic and educational recovery worldwide that leaves no one behind.
“Reversing the cut in UK Aid would allow investment in health, education and economic growth and encourage all other leaders at the G7 to join in the global action we need.”