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Jeddah - Yasmine El Tohamy - LONDON: The UK government faces a possible legal challenge to its plans to cut overseas aid by members of its own party.
Backbench Conservative MPs, including former ministers and other senior figures, have acted after suggestions by Foreign Office Minister James Cleverly last week that the government could seek to amend its legal commitments to humanitarian spending next month without a vote in Parliament.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson is set to oversee a raft of spending decisions in the coming weeks that will cause controversy, with the UK facing an economic crisis caused by the coronavirus pandemic and subsequent national lockdown measures.
As part of these measures, plans have been floated to reduce foreign aid spending from 0.7 percent of gross domestic product to 0.5 percent by 2022.
Spending would fall to around £9 billion ($12.5 billion) as a result, having been £15 billion before.
Among the Arab countries most likely to be negatively affected are Lebanon, Syria, Yemen and Libya.
Last week, a leaked email showed the aid budgets to these countries could be cut by as much as two thirds, with Lebanon, in the midst of a financial crisis and a serious coronavirus outbreak, set to receive an even greater cut.
A government spokesman said: “The government is acting compatibly with the International Development Act, which explicitly envisages there may be a circumstance where the 0.7 percent target is not met.”
But MP Andrew Mitchell, the former international development secretary tasked with originally implementing the UK’s 0.7 percent target, said the new proposals are potentially unlawful, and he and other MPs will back a legal challenge if a vote in Parliament is not forthcoming.
“I was part of the team that drafted the law and it is very clear. It allows the government to breach the 0.7 percent target in exceptional circumstances, but not if it sets about doing so in a premeditated way,” he told The Times.
“If the government wants to change that, MPs need to vote on it. And if we don’t get a vote it will go to court. Then the judge will look at what Parliament intended and that is very clear. The government cannot balance its books on the back of the poorest people in the world.”
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