Andrew Mitchell – 2021 Speech on Foreign Aid Cuts

The speech made by Andrew Mitchell, the Conservative MP for Sutton Coldfield, in the House of Commons on 13 July 2021.

I draw the House’s attention to my interests, as set out in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests.

The Government have done the right thing today in ensuring that this House has a vote on this matter, and thank you, Mr Speaker, for standing up for Parliament in that respect. There is a straight choice here, as was outlined by the Leader of the House yesterday in his statement. It is between rejecting this motion, in which case the Government will restore the 0.7% from next year—that was the olive branch that my right hon. and hon. Friends and I suggested—and accepting this so-called “Treasury compromise”. I tell the House that it is no compromise at all; it is a fiscal trap for the unwary.

First, it is quite possible that these conditions will never be met. We do not need to look in the crystal ball—we can read the book. It is indisputably the case that there has been only one occasion in the past two decades—in 2001—when these conditions would have been met. If we look at what the OBR has said, we see that it is incredibly clear that the debt to GDP measure will not fall until 2024-25 and day-to-day debt will not fall until 2025-26. Given that the 0.7% goes up and down with our economic performance, a very important point is that the 0.7% policy protects us in that respect.

John Redwood (Wokingham) (Con)

Does my right hon. Friend not accept that the OBR has exaggerated the gloom on the debt and deficit, particularly in the last two years? It exaggerated it by £50 billion for last year between November and March, so why on earth does he believe the OBR’s gloomy figures now? I am sure we are going to get the deficit down.

Mr Mitchell

My right hon. Friend is looking in the crystal ball, but I have read in the book: in the past 20 years, this would have happened on just one occasion. So a vote for the Government tonight is a vote to end our 0.7 commitment.

Anthony Mangnall

I am sorry to interrupt my right hon. Friend, but does it say something when every economic and political commentator has said that this new mechanism will not see the 0.7% return in the way that it should and that this is a cop-out of the highest order?

Mr Mitchell

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. As I said, this is a trap for the unwary and a tribute to the Chancellor of the Exchequer’s silver tongue. So I shall certainly be voting against this motion and against the Government today. I shall do so with absolute conviction and profound disappointment. This is only the third time since I was elected in 1987 that I have voted against the Government, and on one of those occasions I was in the company of the Prime Minister in the Lobby. It is never easy to rebel and I thank those who have stood with us to support our manifesto. We should not be breaking our promise in this way. We should certainly not be seeking to balance the books on the backs of the poorest people in the world. I am incredibly proud to have been a member of a Conservative Administration who declined to do that even with the austerity that we faced.

For goodness sake, this is 1% of the borrowing that the Chancellor rightly made last year to shore up our country from covid. It is a tiny figure and it is the only cut that he has announced. That will have an enormous impact on our role in the world and, above all, on the huge number of people who will be severely damaged, maimed, blinded, as often happens, or indeed who will die as a result of the cuts. I remind the House that the cuts include a 25% cut to girls’ education, which is a top priority of our Prime Minister and this Administration. For neglected tropical diseases—thank goodness, the philanthropists have stepped in for one year only to protect the British taxpayers’ investment—we have cut aid by 90%. In Yemen, as my hon. Friend the Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton) said, we have cut it by 60%, which is literally the equivalent of taking food away from starving people. This is what we are doing to the world’s poorest. This is how we are trashing our international reputation. We are the only country in the G7 that is cutting in the middle of a pandemic. Everyone else is increasing. This is a decision that we do not need to make. Since we started this campaign, there has been a 9% increase in support across our country for the Government’s policies. It is, to coin a phrase, worse than a crime; it is a mistake.

May I say, finally, in humble respect to my own party, that some of us have seen this movie before? It took us 23 years—until 2015—to achieve an overall majority by wiping out the Liberal Democrat seats, and to achieve it we secured the support of decent, internationalist, pro-development spending people, who saw from our time of austerity that we would stand by this promise. The former Brexit Secretary—my right hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice and Howden (Mr Davis)—and I visited Chesham and Amersham. May I say that our much-loved former colleague, Cheryl Gillan, would have been voting with us on this issue tonight? Anyone who thinks that this issue is not affecting our party’s reputation is living in cloud cuckoo land. Chesham and Amersham has the biggest Christian Aid group in the country.

There is an unpleasant odour wafting out from under my party’s front door. This is not who we are. This is not what global Britain is. I urge my right hon. and hon. Friends to vote against this motion.