As published in the Guardian:
Proposed foreign aid cuts are immoral, unlawful and ministers tried to push them through without a vote in the Commons because they knew they would lose, the former Brexit secretary and Conservative backbench MP David Davis has said.
Davis told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that the UK was unique among the G7 in planning the 42% cut, and said it would kill thousands of people. He cited legal advice given to Tory backbenchers by Ken Macdonald in which he denounced the planned cuts.
“The government, if it wanted to do this, should have brought it to the House of Commons and said: ‘This is in our manifesto but the duress we’re facing now means we have to do this’ and so ask the house to approve it. It didn’t.
“The reason it didn’t was because the majority of the house doesn’t agree with it. That’s what we’re going see today if we get the vote. And I’m afraid that that’s frankly, in my judgment, a morally poor position for the government.”
Ministers have been warned that the proposals, which call for about £4bn in cuts, would leave about 70,000 people in the world’s largest refugee settlement without health services. About 100,000 refugees in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, would also be without water before the deadly cyclone season, aid agencies said.
In the run-up to a possible Commons vote on Monday, a group of those working in the area wrote to the Foreign Office minister for Asia, Nigel Adams. They warned that the cuts would “significantly undermine efforts to address humanitarian needs” in the camp.
On Monday, the former prime minister Gordon Brown said now was not the time for the cuts. He told BBC Breakfast: “It’s a life-and-death issue, we’re actually deciding who lives and who dies, particularly at this point where if we withdraw the money for vaccination it’s the equivalent of pulling away the needle from a kid or from an adult who is sick who needs the vaccination, a 90% cut, for example, in support for polio vaccination.”
He added: “We’re about to get a huge payment from the International Monetary Fund of $23bn, that covers this cut six times over, so it makes absolutely no economic sense. But particularly no moral sense. And it’s in our self-interest, of course, to see the others vaccinated because nobody is safe until everybody is safe.”
Boris Johnson has persisted with the plan, believing it to be politically popular despite a rebellion by his own MPs, including the former international development secretary Andrew Mitchell and the former prime minister Theresa May.
The government has insisted the reduction of foreign aid from 0.7% of national income to 0.5%, which breaches the Tory manifesto, would be temporary.
The solicitor general, Lucy Frazer, told Sky News on Monday: “Even without the 0.7% this year, we will be investing £10bn and that is really important, but we are in the middle of a pandemic.
“What we’ve said is of course international aid needs to be spent but we’re going to temporarily cease the 0.7% and bring it back when fiscal circumstances allow.”
Davis said: “If you are a small child and you then suddenly get dirty water, you get an infection from it and you die, temporary doesn’t mean much.”