By Michael Jarvis, London UK
The ruling British Conservative Party of Prime Minister Boris Johnson is ensnared in a huge internal row over the government’s move to cut international aid.
The government wants to cut its aid commitments from the internationally agreed 0.7 per cent of GDP to 0.5 per cent.
The government says the reduction is needed as it has been forced to reprioritise its spending because of the severe economic contraction caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
But opposition is increasing not only from the parliamentary opposition and organisations objecting to the cut, but from within Mr Johnson’s own party.
His predecessor, former prime minister Theresa May has spoken out against the move along with other former British leaders; Conservative prime minister John Major and ex Labour prime ministers Tony Blair and Gordon Brown.
The UK’s commitment to the Group of Seven (G7) pledge to set aside 0.7 per cent of their national income to be spent on international development was put into law by another former Conservative leader, David Cameron.
The UK is the only G7 member to be cutting its aid budgets during the coronavirus pandemic.
Critics say that if the government proceeds with the plan to cut overseas aid, it would not only reflect negatively on the UK but could jeopardise efforts to suppress the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic in poor countries which rely on aid.
Mr Johnson is also under pressure from other members of the Conservative party including former cabinet ministers over the plan which they see as undermining the UK’s global role and respectability.
The UK’s overseas aid budget also supports its disaster response and other programmes in the Overseas territories.
However, the government maintains that even with the cutback from 0.7 per cent to 0.5 per cent of GDP, it will still be spending £10 billion (US$ 14 billion) on overseas aid.
The current aid budget is £13 billion (US$18 billion).
The government has also said the intended cutback is short term.
A move to force a vote in the House of Commons (UK parliament) this week on the issue was thwarted over parliamentary procedures.
However, MPs within the Conservative Party who are leading the opposition to the plan say they are considering other moves to force the government to reverse its stance.
The 0.7 per cent GDP aid target was set by the United Nations in 1970.
Data from the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development(OECD) shows that while other G7 member nations provide more aid in total, the UK is the only one to have met the target of 0.7 per cent of GDP.
The issue is expected to be discussed when Mr Johnson hosts other G7 leaders at a meeting in London this weekend.