Theresa May has backed the growing Tory rebellion on overseas aid cuts, with 30 MPs now planning to inflict on Boris Johnson his first Commons defeat since his election victory.
The former prime minister added her name to an increasing number of backbenchers who are supporting an amendment to force the government to spend 0.7% of GDP on international development.
The amendment, tabled by former international development secretary Andrew Mitchell, introduces a new clause to the Advanced Research and Invention Agency Bill which has its report stage in parliament on Monday.
The Commons showdown has been deliberately timed for maximum pressure on Johnson as he prepares to host the G7 summit of world leaders in Cornwall later in the week.
The PM has come under heavy fire from within his party for temporarily reducing foreign aid from 0.7% of national income to 0.5% and thereby shelving his 2019 manifesto commitment to maintain spending at the higher rate.
Aid charities and others have warned that the government’s decision to slash its aid budget in the middle of a global pandemic will have long term consequences.
Backers of the Mitchell amendment believe it has both the cross-party backing and the careful wording needed for the Speaker of the Commons to select it on Monday, a move that would set the stage for the biggest threat yet to Johnson’s 80-plus majority.
Government whips will be spending the next few days trying to shore up numbers, but many rebels believe they have at least 45 MPs needed to inflict a defeat, with the House of Lords also geared up to line up behind them.
As well as May, former ministers Johnny Mercer and Damian Green added their names to the list on Thursday, swelling the public numbers from 18 to 30.
Mitchell said: “More and more of my colleagues in the House of Commons are supporting this move to 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 UK is the only G7 country cutting aid, as the French are set to reach 0.7%, the Germans will exceed 0.7% this year and the Americans are increasing aid by $14bn.
The cuts to UK aid represent just 1% of what the Chancellor is borrowing this year, but they mean funding for the UN’s reproductive health programme has been cut by 85%. The UN says this aid would have helped prevent around 250,000 maternal and child deaths.
The prime minister’s personal priority for aid is girls’ education. But girls’ education has been cut by 25%, while Unicef, the United Nations Children’s fund has had a cut of 60%.
Most worrying for the PM, the rebellion is made up of Conservatives from all wings of the party, including traditional right-wingers like Sir Desmond Swayne and Sir Edward Leigh, as well as former Brexit secretary David Davis.
The 30 Conservative MPs now backing the amendment are:
1. Rt Hon Andrew Mitchell (former Development Secretary and former Chief Whip)
2. Anthony Mangnall (former FCO adviser to William Hague)
3. Rt Hon Sir Peter Bottomley (Father of the House)
4. Rt Hon Theresa May (former Prime Minister)
5. Rt Hon Damian Green (former de facto Deputy Prime Minister)
6. Rt Hon Karen Bradley (Chair of the Commons Procedures Committee)
7. Rt Hon Caroline Nokes (Chair of the Women and Equalities Committee)
8. Rt Hon Harriett Baldwin (former Africa Minister)
9. Rt Hon Sir Edward Leigh (former Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee)
10. Rt Hon David Davis (former Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee and former Brexit Secretary)
11. Tom Tugendhart (Chair of the Foriegn Affairs Committee)
12. Rt Hon Tobias Ellwood (Chair of the Defence Committee)
13. Rt Hon Jeremy Hunt (Chair of the Health and Social Care Committee, and former Foreign Secretary)
14. Neil Parish (Chair of the Environment Committee)
15. Rt Hon Sir Roger Gale (former Vice Chairman of the Conservative Party)
16. Rt Hon Sir Desmond Swayne (former Development Minister)
17. Derek Thomas (MP for the constituency hosting next week’s Cornwall G7 in Carbis Bay)
18. Bob Seely (Foreign Affairs Committee Member)
19. Nus Ghani (leading Trade Bill rebel)
20. Rt Hon Tim Loughton (former Children’s Minister and leading Brexiteer)
21. Ben Everitt (new intake MP)
22. David Warburton (former Chair of the British Council APPG)
23. Crispin Blunt (former Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee)
24. Rt Hon Stephen Crabb (former Welsh Secretary)
25. Sir Bob Neill (Chair of the Justice Committee)
26. Pauline Latham OBE (Member of the International Development Committee)
27. Simon Hoare (Chair of the Northern Ireland Committee)
28. Bob Blackman (Executive Secretary of the 1922 Committee)
29. Johnny Mercer (former Defence Minister)
30. Giles Watling (who was re-elected with 72% of the vote in Clacton)
The amendment is also signed by:
• Sarah Champion (Chair of the International Development Committee)
• Meg Hiller (Chair of the Public Accounts Committee)
• Rt Hon Dame Margaret Hodge (former Chair of the Public Accounts Committee)
• Preet Kaur Gill (Shadow Development Secretary)
• Lisa Nandy (Shadow Foreign Secretary)
The DUP, which sometimes votes with the Tories, appear resolutely opposed to the aid cuts and all other parties from Labour to the SNP and Lib Dems look poised to back the amendment.
Home Office 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. 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. So we’ve had to make some very, very difficult decisions.”
“Even with this small temporary reduction, we are still one of the largest donors of aid in the world, spending more than £10 billion on aid.”
However, critics point out that because aid is already linked to GDP, it has fallen anyway because of lower growth and adding further cuts on top inflicts unnecessary harm on vital work in developing countries.