The vote on the cut to the foreign aid budget, which Jacob Rees-Mogg has just announced in the Commons, will be tight. The government has said that it plans to return to its manifesto commitment of 0.7 per cent but only when the Office for Budget Responsibility's forecasts show the UK is no longer borrowing for day-to-day spending and the debt is in decline. But that may not be enough to edge it given that the rebels want it restored when the economy returns to pre-pandemic levels, which will come much sooner.
The government’s majority of 80 will be put under more pressure than it has been at any point in this parliament — with Labour, the SNP and the Liberal Democrats all planning to join with the Tory rebels. Both the rebels and the government think that they have the numbers to carry the day.
When a rebel effort to force a vote on the matter was blocked last month, Andrew Mitchell — who is a former chief whip as well as a development secretary — said that they had the numbers to win by at least nine vote. But, privately, government whips thought they would have won; albeit not by much.
The government’s decision to have a vote is a recognition that it was becoming increasingly hard to maintain the policy without explicit parliamentary approval. The Speaker Lindsay Hoyle had been clear that if the government would not grant the Commons a vote, he was prepared to look sympathetically at other options. David Davis, an ally of Mitchell on this cause as well as so many others, had talked of going to court if the government would not offer MPs a say on the policy.
Reducing the aid budget from 0.7 per cent of GDP to 0.5 per cent is a rare example of a spending cut that voters support. If the government can’t get MPs to back it, it will show just how difficult controlling public spending will be for the Tories even with a majority of 80.