Tory critics of the Government’s cut to the aid budget are plotting a fresh parliamentary ambush to try to reverse it, with proposals to hijack a forthcoming procurement bill.
Rebel leader Andrew Mitchell, the former international aid secretary and ex-chief whip, is taking legal advice and examining a series of options to force ministers into a U-turn.
He and his colleagues are understood to have alighted upon upcoming legislation to reform the way in which the Government awards contracts as a promising target for amendment.
It comes after a bid led by Mr Mitchell to hijack legislation to create a scientific research funding body stalled earlier this week, as parliamentary clerks deemed aid expenditure to be outside the “scope” of the Bill.
The Tory rebels claimed they would have inflicted an embarrassing defeat on the Prime Minister if their amendment had been selected.
It aimed to restore the international development budget to 0.7 per cent of gross national income, after the Government slashed it to 0.5 per cent and argued that savings were needed due to the economic devastation wrought by the pandemic.
Thirty Conservatives, including former prime minister Theresa May and a series of high-profile select committee chairmen, publicly backed the revolt, while more Tory MPs were said to be prepared to vote for it or abstain on the day.
Around 40 Tories are needed to overturn Boris Johnson’s majority if they team up with all opposition parties.
Rebels must bide their time
The rebels may have to wait several months for their chance to put the matter to a vote, however. The Procurement Bill, announced in the Queen’s speech last month, is not expected to be introduced into the Commons until September, The Telegraph understands.
The rebels believe that since the mechanism by which overseas development assistance is spent involves procurement (it is invested through Government contracts with service providers such as businesses, NGOs and consultants) an amendment about the aid budget would be permitted to a Bill about procurement reform.
They are seeking formal legal advice.
Champions of the 0.7 per cent target in the House of Lords have not given up hope of amending the Bill to create an advanced research and innovation agency (Aria), despite the implosion of the MPs’ plot on Monday.
Peers are understood to be examining options for a re-worded amendment that they hope could fall in scope.
Ministers have insisted the decision to slash £4 billion from the aid budget this year falls within the law, which includes provision to suspend the 0.7 per cent target in an emergency.
The Government hopes that an eye-catching commitment to give away millions of vaccine doses to developing countries, set to be unveiled at the G7 summit this weekend, will shift the focus away from criticism over the aid spending reduction.