18/11/2020 1:40 AM AEDT | Updated 18/11/2020 2:37 AM AEDT

Boris Johnson May Cut Foreign Aid To Pay For Covid Crisis, No.10 Suggests

Reduction may be temporary but critics say move "will diminish us on the world stage".

Boris Johnson may slash Britain’s international aid budget to help pay for the UK economy’s recovery from Covid-19, it has emerged. 

Downing Street did not deny reports ministers were considering a temporary cut to the aid from 0.7% of gross national income, the current legal requirement, to 0.5%. 

The prime minister’s allies say the plan would save the UK billions and help the country get back on its feet after the pandemic. 

But the move is strongly opposed by some MPs, including Tory Andrew Mitchell, who said on Tuesday it “will diminish us on the world stage”. 

It follows Johnson’s controversial decision earlier this year to merge the Department for International Development (DFID) with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, with critics saying it sent a signal the government was mixing “trade with aid”. 

Asked about a possible temporary cut in aid and whether it was compatible with the Tory manifesto pledge to stick to aid targets, the PM’s official spokesperson said: “I’m not in the business of speculating on that.”

Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab is thought to oppose the plans

But he added a remark that appeared to confirm the government was considering cuts.

“It may be worth just setting out as a matter of fact, under the International Development Act there may be circumstances in which the government is not able to meet the 0.7% commitment,” he said.

“And if that happened, the [foreign secretary] is required under the Act to lay a statement in parliament explaining why the target is not being met.”

When quizzed over whether the manifesto commitment to spend 0.7% of GDP on overseas aid was still policy, the spokesperson replied only that: “The government is committed to supporting international development and helping the world’s poorest people.”

No.10 also pointed to remarks by communities secretary Robert Jenrick, who said on Tuesday: “It is legitimate to consider where savings can be made when public finances are under huge strain.”

Downing Street said it was not going to speculate in advance of the chancellor’s spending review due next week, “but we are looking at how the aid budget is spent to ensure it serves the UK’s priorities and represents value for money.”

The Times has reported the foreign secretary Dominic Raab is thought to be against the plan, reported to be driven by chancellor Rishi Sunak. 

But Mitchell, a former international development secretary, said: “It would be an extraordinary decision at the very point at which Britain is about to take over the chairmanship of the G7, with a new administration in the White House which will strongly champion the international system. It will diminish us on the world stage.”