The UK government has won a vote to cut its foreign aid budget, which will slash billions from programmes which help some of the poorest in the world.
Parliament voted for the measure — by 333-298 votes — despite even some high profile politicians from the ruling Conservative Party joining the opposition in voting against it.
Boris Johnson’s government announced in November it wanted to cut the share of national income that goes to foreign aid from 0.7 per cent to 0.5 per cent, claiming it was necessary due to the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic.
One Conservative MP who voted against the measure — former prime minister Theresa May — said: “This isn’t about palaces for dictators and vanity projects.”
“It’s about what cuts to funding mean: that fewer girls will be educated, more girls and boys will become slaves, more children will go hungry and more of the poorest people in the world will die.”
Another Conservative MP, Andrew Mitchell, pointed out the Conservative Party pledged during the UK’s 2019 general election to keep the 0.7 percent target.
He told BBC radio: “We said that whatever the crisis we wouldn’t balance the books on the backs of the poorest people in the world.”
There was outcry elsewhere about the decision from United Nations agencies and aid groups.
Amid the criticism of the measure, the government announced on Monday that Parliament would get a vote on the matter.
Johnson told MPs that Britain had experienced “an economic hurricane” because of the pandemic, with lockdowns shuttering large tracts of the economy and the government spending billions to support businesses and employees.
“The government has been compelled to take wrenching decisions,” he said.
He said the reduction, which amounts to about £4 billion (€4.7 billion) this year, is temporary and aid would be restored to 0.7% of national income “as soon as circumstances allow”.
Keir Starmer, leader of the opposition Labour Party, said Britain is the only member of the G7 wealthy nations club that is cutting its aid budget.
“That is not the vision of global Britain that we want to see,” he said.
The Chancellor Rishi Sunak said the government still planned to reverse the cut — but only when Britain is not borrowing to finance day-to-day spending and when its debt is falling.
Critics fear the economic damage inflicted by the pandemic means those conditions are unlikely to be met for years.