Isabel Hardman

Boris’s aid cuts problem isn’t going away

Boris's aid cuts problem isn't going away
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Sir Keir Starmer will have spent far more time preparing his response to today's Budget which comes after Prime Minister's Questions, but he did also manage to highlight a problem that isn't going away for the government in his questions to Boris Johnson. The Labour leader chose to focus his stint on Yemen, criticising the British government's relationship with Saudi Arabia, and the decision to cut international aid money to the war-torn country.

Johnson insisted that 'when it comes to the people of Yemen, we continue to step up to the plate'. The most instructive question was on whether MPs will get a vote on the cuts to aid. Starmer quoted concerns from the UN Secretary-General, as well as senior Conservative MPs including former International Development Secretary Andrew Mitchell. He then asked: 

'Britain should be a moral force for good in the world, but just as the US is stepping up, the UK is stepping back. If the Prime Minister and chancellor are so determined to press ahead with their manifesto breaking-cuts to international aid, cutting the budget to 0.5 per cent, they should at least put that to a vote in this House. Will you have the courage to do so, Prime Minister?'

Johnson's response was to say the government was 'spending more than virtually any country in the world' and than any other country in the G7. He then complained that Starmer 'can't work out what his priorities are' and had nothing to say on the big issue of the hour. 

'He could have asked anything about the coronavirus pandemic, Mr Speaker, instead he has consecrated his questions entirely to the people of Yemen', he complained. 

Regardless of the struggles facing people in this country, it is a strange thing to complain about, given the famine in Yemen. But this was the Prime Minister's way of dodging the question on whether MPs are going to get a chance to vote on the change of policy on the aid budget. 

It was something SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford also pushed him on in his own unusually useful questions. And it is something that is not going to go away, despite the avalanche of news on many other fronts today.