Theresa May joins Tory rebellion over overseas aid cuts

The former prime minister Theresa May has joined a growing rebellion of Tory MPs over cuts to the government’s overseas aid programme.

Thirty Tory MPs now plan to sign an amendment to the advanced research and invention agency bill, which has its report stage in the House of Commons on Monday, introducing a new clause reversing the cuts.

The amendment is in the name of the former international development secretary Andrew Mitchell and the former Foreign Office adviser and newly elected MP Anthony Mangnall.

The rebels will need 40 MPs in order to defeat the government, but either way ministers will be deeply embarrassed that the vote is happening in the week the UK hosts the G7 summit in Cornwall, where one of the key themes will be help for poorer countries seeking to recover from the pandemic.

MPs backing the amendment include May; the former Brexit secretary David Davis; the leader of the One Nation caucus Damian Green; Tim Loughton, a leading Brexiter; the former defence minister Jonnie Mercer; the former Welsh secretary Stephen Crabb; Nus Ghani, a leading trade bill rebel; Bob Seely, a member of the foreign affairs committee; and the new MP Ben Everitt.

Mitchell said: “More and more of my colleagues in the House of Commons are supporting this move to stand by our manifesto promise. With our economy returning to growth, there is no justification for balancing the books on the backs of the world’s poor.

“With G7 leaders coming to Britain next week, there is an opportunity for us to reclaim our rightful place on the global stage. Britain’s national interest is not being served by the devastating impact these cuts are already having on the ground and the unnecessary loss of hundreds of thousands of innocent lives. We urge the government to think again.”

The MPs say they plan to reveal more names over the weekend to make it clear to the whips that they have the numbers to defeat the government and that the only sensible course is for ministers to make a statement that they will restore the proportion of gross national income spent on overseas aid to 0.7% next year.

Ministers cut the proportion to 0.5% citing the UK’s dire economic outlook due to Covid. The government has said it will restore the aid back to 0.7% when circumstances allow but has set no metrics or timings for this to happen, leading some observers to believe Boris Johnson initially saw the cut as a permanent move that would be popular with red wall voters.

The government has found itself under increasing pressure as the impact of the cuts on government programmes start to drip through in high-profile areas such as Yemen, Syria and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Some priority areas for the government such as girls’ education have been cut, leaving ministers looking foolish in promoting such causes at international summits.