Ex-PM John Major joins Tories opposing foreign aid cuts

‘Let compassion prevail’: Former prime minister Sir John Major joins Theresa May and other Tory grandees opposing pandemic-induced foreign aid cuts saying the UK needs to ‘repair our reputation as a global force for good’

  • Boris Johnson is facing a Tory revolt over the reduction to foreign aid spending
  • Aid was cut from 0.7 per cent of national income to 0.5 per cent after pandemic
  • Amendment backed by Conservatives could see level restored from next year  

Sir John Major today became the latest former Tory prime minister to slam Boris Johnson over plans to cut the UK’s foreign aid budget.

The 90s leader said that proposals to cut the proportion of UK spending on projects overseas due to the pandemic were not ‘morally defensible’.

He spoke out again publicly on the matter after Theresa may yesterday joined the chorus of Tory parliamentary grandees threatening to defeat the Government over its proposed cut.

She  is among 30 Conservative who support a move to force the Government to backtrack on plans to cut spending from 0.7 per cent of national income to 0.5 per cent.   

Now the group of mainly senior Conservatives are backing an amendment that looks set to be the subject of a dramatic Commons vote next week. 

After initially making his views known to the Government in private, Sir John opted to go public in his support for the aid budget as Conservative rebels hope to force Mr Johnson to reverse the cuts.

Sir John said: ‘Whilst I fully recognise our own budgeting difficulties, I do not believe it is morally defensible to ease our own financial burden at the expense of some of the poorest and most vulnerable people in the world, who have nothing – and nowhere else to turn for help.

‘I made my own views on this clear to the Government, privately, some weeks ago and – even at this late hour – I hope they will honour their better instincts and let compassion prevail to aid those in dire need.

‘Only then can we re-establish ourselves as a nation that keeps its word, and begin to repair our reputation as a global force for good.’

Sir John said: ‘Whilst I fully recognise our own budgeting difficulties, I do not believe it is morally defensible to ease our own financial burden at the expense of some of the poorest and most vulnerable people in the world’


Boris Johnson is facing a huge Tory revolt over slashing foreign aid – with MPs including Theresa May ‘confident’ they can force the government to bring back the 0.7 per cent spending target next year

Mr Johnson has come under fire after declaring foreign aid will be temporarily cut from 0.7 per cent of national income to 0.5 per cent due to the pandemic hammering the economy. The chart shows IFS estimates of the projected change in spending

Ex-minister Andrew Mitchell is leading a parliamentary push to ensure new legislation makes up the shortfall left by the cut to the UK’s official development assistance.

The number of potential rebels doubled last night, with Mrs May’s former deputy Damian Green, and Johnny Mercer, who recently resigned as a defence minister, also adding their names to an amendment led by former international development secretary Andrew Mitchell.

Mr Mitchell, who is also a former Conservative chief whip,  wants to ensure new legislation makes up the shortfall left by the cut to the UK’s official development assistance.

Other big-hitters who support his plan include ex-foreign and health secretary Jeremy Hunt and ex-aid minister Sir Desmond Swayne. 

Mrs May is not a natural Tory rebel but she has previously criticised Mr Johnson over the aid cut. 

Writing in the Mail to mark Joe Biden’s inauguration as US President in January, she suggested her successor had failed to honour British values by tearing up the foreign aid target.

Mr Mitchell has tabled an amendment to the Advanced Research and Invention Agency (Aria) Bill, a piece of legislation which establishes a new ‘high-risk, high-reward’ research agency backed with £800million of taxpayers’ cash to explore new ideas.

The explanatory note of Mr Mitchell’s amendment to the Bill says: ‘This new clause is intended to reaffirm the duty in the International Development (Official Development Assistance Target) Act 2015 for UK official development assistance (ODA) to amount to 0.7 per cent of gross national income each year.

‘It would require Aria to make up any shortfall in that proportion from January 2022.’

It will be up to Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle to decide whether the amendment is selected for consideration when the Bill returns to the Commons for further consideration on Monday June 7.

It could be considered outside the scope of the legislation. 

Other senior Conservatives to back the amendment include ex-Brexit secretary David Davis and former Welsh secretary Stephen Crabb, as well as father of the House Sir Peter Bottomley.

Others include select committee chairs such as Caroline Nokes, Tom Tugendhat and Karen Bradley.

The amendment is also collecting support from the Labour benches, with signatories so far including International Development Committee chair Sarah Champion and Public Accounts Committee chair Meg Hillier.

The Government has blamed economic damage caused by the Covid-19 pandemic for its aid decision.

But critics believe the cut will result in tens of thousands of deaths in other parts of the world.


Defence Committee chairman Tobias Ellwood (left) and Foreign Affairs Committee chairman Tom Tugendhat (right) are both backing the rebel move


Other big-hitters who support his plan include ex-foreign and health secretary Jeremy Hunt and ex-aid minister Sir Desmond Swayne.

The Government has also come under fire for making the change without holding a Commons vote.

Minister Victoria Atkins told Sky News the UK could ‘hold our head up high in terms of international development’.

‘The Prime Minister has made clear that this is a temporary measure,’ she said.

‘In 2019, no one could have foreseen the extent of the pandemic and the measures we were going to have to take as a country in order to deal with this; it has had a huge impact on our economy.’

And she added: ‘So we’ve had to make some very, very difficult decisions.’

But she said: ‘Even with this small temporary reduction, we are still one of the largest donors of aid in the world, spending more than £10billion on aid.

‘And so I do believe we still have a record of which we can very much hold our head up high in terms of international development.’

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