It's groundhog day in the House of Commons today. Another Health Secretary, another Covid announcement and now another scheduled vote on the government's decision to abandon the Tory commitment to spending 0.7 per cent of gross national income on international aid.
The Leader of the House Jacob Rees-Mogg told MPs this afternoon that there will tomorrow be a three hour debate and a binding vote on a motion about the Treasury's restrictions on the international aid budget. If the motion is rejected, the previous 0.7 per cent commitment on international aid will be reinstated from January 2022.
It comes after last month's shenanigans in which the Speaker of the House Lindsay Hoyle thwarted an attempt by rebel Tory MPs to reverse the cuts via a parliamentary amendment to the government’s Advanced Research and Invention Agency Bill. Hoyle ruled the amendment out of scope but said the government must bring a vote on the issue – something Boris Johnson was reportedly (and understandably) keen to avoid.
Now though, Rees-Mogg has obliged the three dozen or so Tory rebels itching for another vote on the issue. The motion will be that 'This House has considered the written ministerial statement relating to the Treasury statement on international aid.' We got a taste of the forthcoming Treasury arguments from the Old Etonian who told members:
“If the motion were to be negative, that would be a significant consequence for our fiscal situation where, I would remind the House, that over £400 billion has had to be spent because of the coronavirus pandemic and yet we remain one of the most generous nations in terms of overseas aid.
With David Davis, Andrew Mitchell and Theresa May among those rebels limbering up to take on the government whips, this one risks being Boris Johnson's biggest parliamentary threat since the 2019 election. Already Davis has hinted at his strength of feeling on this issue by asking Rees-Mogg whether there will be an assessment as to how many lives will have been lost by breaking this manifesto commitment. Strong stuff – this one will be well worth tuning in.
You can read Steerpike's guides to the various Tory tribes of rumbunctious rebels here.