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UK PM Johnson faces aid cut rebellion on eve of G7

Published: Updated:

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is facing on Monday his first possible parliamentary defeat since his 2019 landslide election, over cuts to the overseas aid budget, just days before hosting the G7 summit.

Breaking a manifesto promise, Johnson’s Conservative government -- which enjoys an 80-seat majority -- insists it must slash spending on aid by billions of pounds this year to help mend pandemic-battered public finances.

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But the decision to no longer meet its legally enshrined commitment to spend 0.7 percent of gross national income (GNI) on British overseas aid has sparked a rebellion within the ruling party.

Dozens of Tory lawmakers oppose to the move, including former prime minister Theresa May, who argue the cut to 0.5 percent of GNI would leave Britain as the only member of the Group of Seven wealthy nations not meeting the target.

The rebels believe they have the numbers to inflict a humiliating defeat on Johnson when parliament votes on related legislation later Monday, in the same week that he hosts G7 leaders at a summit in Cornwall, southwest England.

“The eyes of the world are truly upon us,” lawmaker Andrew Mitchell, a former international development secretary who is spearheading the rebellion of dozens of Conservatives, wrote in The Guardian.

“But in this moment Britain is found wanting, because we have removed a foundational piece of our own global leadership,” he added, noting it was the only G7 country to be cutting aid.

“We are doing it at a time when both the need for aid around the world is rising and when other countries are stepping up.”

Mitchell said the cuts are already having a “devastating effect” on projects around the world.

“In crisis situations, these cuts will result in hundreds of thousands of preventable deaths,” he added.

Britain dished out around £15 billion ($20 billion) in overseas aid last year before the cut of around £4.5 billion was implemented.

Meanwhile emergency pandemic support measures have sent UK annual borrowing rocketing to the equivalent to 14.5 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) -- the highest level since World War II.

The government has said it will return to 0.7 percent of national income -- a broader measure than GDP -- “when the fiscal situation allows”.

But critics fear the cut could become more permanent, and argue its impact is too severe to institute even temporarily.

Alongside May, Britain’s other living former leaders -- David Cameron, Gordon Brown, Tony Blair and John Major -- also oppose the reduction.

“It’s a life and death issue, we’re actually deciding who lives and who dies,” Brown told BBC radio on Monday.

“It makes absolutely no economic sense, but particularly no moral sense,” he added.

Brown called government claims that the public supported a temporary cut “a myth”.

“I think people know that while charity begins at home, it should never end at home, because we’ve got responsibilities and benefits from working with the rest of the world.”

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