UK PM’s party rebels prepare to challenge foreign aid cuts

LONDON — Senior Lawmakers from Britain’s governing Conservative Party are hoping to reverse the government’s contentious cut in foreign aid spending — just days before Prime Minister Boris Johnson welcomes world leaders to the country for a Group of Seven summit.

The government dropped its long-standing commitment to spend 0.7% of the U.K.’s gross domestic product on international aid, citing the coronavirus pandemic’s blow to the economy. It says the cut — to 0.5% — is temporary.

But Johnson’s predecessor Theresa May, along with former Cabinet ministers Andrew Mitchell and David Davis, are among the Conservatives pushing for a reversal. A vote on the issue could take place on Monday if the amendment is selected for a vote by House of Commons Speaker Lindsay Hoyle.

Mitchell, a former international development secretary who is leading the rebellion, said he has the support of more than 30 Conservative lawmakers and is confident of pushing that to 45. That would be enough to overturn Johnson’s working majority of 85 in the House of Commons.

The move comes just days before Prime Minister Boris Johnson hosts leaders of the G-7 wealthy nations for a June 11-13 summit in Cornwall, England. Johnson has been promoting the meeting as an opportunity for Britain to assert itself on the global stage following the nation’s departure from the European Union. The U.K. will also host a major environmental summit later this year in Scotland.

Writing in the Guardian newspaper, Mitchell said the “eyes of the world are truly upon us.’’

“But in this moment Britain is found wanting, because we have removed a foundational piece of our own global leadership,’’ he said. “Britain is the only G-7 nation cutting aid this year.”

Some 1,700 charities, academics and business leaders have written to Johnson to warn that the UK’s “credibility and voice on the international stage will be undermined,” even as he prepares for his first in-person meeting with U.S. president Joe Biden.

“It’s a life-and-death issue,” former Labour Party Prime Minister Gordon Brown told the BBC. “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.”

Solicitor General for England and Wales Lucy Frazer said the pandemic had forced the government to make “tough decisions.”