LONDON: Senior political figures in the UK have hit back at the government for refusing to grant MPs a vote on controversial foreign aid cuts that would see Britain reduce its commitment to aid spending from 0.7 percent of national income to 0.5 percent.
The cuts will have far-reaching consequences for some of the world’s most impoverished countries, opponents have warned.
MPs including Andrew Mitchell, former shadow secretary of state for international development, and former Prime Minister Theresa May, have slammed the decision to deny the vote.
MPs who opposed the cuts highlighted their concerns ahead of the G7 Summit in the UK this week, where Prime Minister Boris Johnson will likely face scrutiny over the cuts from leaders of other major countries.
Mitchell said in a Parliament debate on Tuesday that the rebel MPs would have “easily defeated” the cuts had they been voted on in the House of Commons. Opponents of the cuts include 16 former ministers and a number of select committee chairs.
“It is precisely because the government fears it would lose a vote that it is not calling one,” Mitchell said. “That is not democracy.”
France has embraced the target of 0.7 percent of national income set by the UN while Germany has moved beyond it, Mitchell added, warning that as a result, Britain “is the only one going backward” out of the G7 countries.
May said she had decided to oppose the cut because of its potential impact on tackling modern slavery in developing countries.
She added that Johnson’s decision would mean an 80 percent reduction in the budget of the Global Fund to End Modern Slavery, which would place more children at risk of sexual exploitation.
“Britain has been the world leader in tackling modern slavery. Now we see organizations having to go cap in hand to other governments to make up for the shortfall caused by the UK government decision,” she said.
“The cut will have a devastating impact on the poorest in the world and damage the UK. I urge the government to reinstate the 0.7 percent. It is what it promised, it will show that we act according to our values, and it will save lives.”
Preet Kaur Gill, shadow international development secretary, told the House of Commons: “We clearly have a government in hiding, a government that has tried over and over again to avoid scrutiny and accountability for the cuts that they have imposed.
“It really is no exaggeration to say the cuts by this government have cost people their lives. It is utterly shameful.”
Chief Secretary to the Treasury Steve Barclay defended the government, saying: “Decisions such as this are not easy. The situation in short is this: A hugely difficult economic and fiscal situation, which requires in turn difficult actions.”