MPs will not be given the chance to debate cuts to the UK government's budget for overseas aid today, despite growing opposition to the move.

Today Sir Lindsay Hoyle, the speaker of the House of Commons, said a Conservative rebel amendment on overseas aid “may not be debated” today as it is “outside the scope of the Bill”. 

However an emergency debate has been secured by former Tory international development minister Andrew Mitchell which will be held on Wednesday.

Critics have piled pressure on Boris Johnson's government to ditch plans to slash the budget for international aid, which is presently legally enshrined at 0.7 per cent of the UK's national income.

Academics from Welsh universities were among some 1,700 charities, educators and business leaders to sign an open letter to the prime minister on the weekend, calling on him to reverse the move to reduce overseas aid to 0.5 per cent of the UK's income.

Members of Aberystwyth, Bangor, Cardiff and Swansea universities all put their names to the letter, warning the PM that "the UK’s credibility and voice on the international stage will be undermined" if he goes ahead with the cuts.

They said the aid cuts represent a "double blow to the world’s poorest communities" during the pandemic, jeopardising the future of health centres, the training of medical workers, and water and sanitation projects.

Amanda Clare, a senior lecturer in bioinformatics at Aberystwyth University, who is one of the academics to have signed the letter said overseas aid is also of benefit to the UK.

She said: "We need to work with our overseas
partners in projects to investigate viral mutations, antimicrobial
resistance and climate change mitigation, because they're global
problems that affect us now and in the future. The sudden removal of
funding for such projects has been a shock and was unexpected, given how
obvious the need for global health research is at the moment."

Ahead of the G7 Summit, due to take place in Cornwall later this week, the letter's signatories said the UK’s decision to cut its aid commitment during a pandemic "casts a shadow over its ability to deliver" at the international conference. 

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"While other G7 countries have stepped up their aid budget, the UK is the only one to have rowed back on its commitments," they added.

Their claims have been backed in parliament by opposition parties and a group of Conservative rebels, who say the government's plans break a 2019 election manifesto pledge to maintain overseas aid at the 0.7 per cent rate.

The National Wales: UK spending on overseas aid, as a percentage of gross national income. Source: PA GraphicsUK spending on overseas aid, as a percentage of gross national income. Source: PA Graphics

Former Brexit secretary David Davis said the government was doing a "harmful" thing in cutting the budget.

"It is going to have devastating consequences across the world," he told the BBC earlier today. "Historically, I am a critic of aid spending but doing it this way is really so harmful.”

The government has defended the planned cuts. Solicitor General Lucy Frazer told Sky News the move will be temporary and aid would be brought back to the 0.7 per cent rate "when the fiscal circumstances allow".

She went on to tell Times Radio that the pandemic had "forced us to make tough decisions, and that’s why we’ve said we’ll temporarily reduce the amount that we’ll spend".

But following the speaker's decision to not allow a debate on the plans today, Tory rebel Andrew Mitchell, a former international trade secretary, said the government was "treating the House of Commons with disrespect" by avoiding a vote on the cuts.

"They are avoiding a vote on the commitments that each of us made individually and collectively at the last general election, on a promise made internationally, and in the opinion of some of Britain’s leading lawyers the government is acting unlawfully," he told MPs.

The speaker said the House of Commons should be given the opportunity to make an “effective” decision on aid spending, adding that he was open to hearing applications for an emergency debate on the issue, which could take place on Tuesday.

Additional reporting by Press Association.