Politics

Starmer clashes with Tory backbencher over Blair foreign aid record ‘Such a weak argument’

Keir Starmer slams Leigh's 'weak' criticism on Labour aid

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Sir Keir Starmer addressed the House of Commons during a debate on foreign aid being cut to 0.5 percent of GDP and suggested the vote for the “temporary” cut was in fact indefinite. Sir Keir said the temporary cut – which will return to normal once borrowing and debt fall – may take until 2024 or 2025 to see any fall in debt and brought up Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s record of lying. Sir Edward Leigh pointed out Labour’s own foreign aid promises which saw Tony Blair pledge the current 0.7 percent GDP on foreign aid, not put in place until David Cameron’s premiership, as Sir Keir ridiculed his argument.  

Speaking during the foreign aid debate, Sir Keir attacked the Government and said they would not follow through on their promise to keep the cut as temporary. 

Labour and several rebel Tory backbenchers, led by former International Development Secretary Andrew Mitchell, oppose the budget cut which will see around £4billion freed up. 

The Government proposed the cut to fill in the economic black hole left behind by the pandemic. 

Sir Edward took aim at Sir Keir’s statement and told the house: “The case of the right honourable gentleman is the Prime Minister is making a promise he will not keep.

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“But what did Tony Blair and Gordon Brown do, they made a promise, but they never ever spent point 0.7 percent of GDP on aid.

“And therefore, the right honourable gentlemen’s speech lacks all moral force.”

Tony Blair originally pledged the 0.7 percent of GDP would be spent on foreign aid but it was only put in place in 2015 during David Cameron’s government. 

The decision was welcomed by all parties who, until the pandemic, remained committed to the level which was part of the Conservative’s manifesto. 

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In response, Sir Kier said: “They more than doubled it, they more than doubled and they set the goal and then successive Prime Ministers implemented that goal.

“That is such a week argument, 11 years into this government that is such a weak [point].

“And I’ve always found this argument weak, when I was Director of Public Prosecutions – which is a five-year term – the very idea that I could turn around four or five years in the role and say it was somebody else’s fault years ago.

“This is such a bad argument that is used all the time, they’ve been in power for 11 years, either take responsibility for what you’re doing or give up!”

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The Conservative government succeeded in passing the bill which was voted 333 to 298 meaning they are able to reduce the foreign aid budget. 

Chancellor Rishi Sunak said he and the Government would still be committed to helping foreign charities and those who need the UK’s help internationally.

The UK will still remain within the top five countries that spend the highest proportion of their GDP on foreign aid. 

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