Former prime minister Theresa May has backed a growing bid by Conservative rebels to force Boris Johnson to reverse his widely-criticised cuts to foreign aid.
His Conservative predecessor heaped pressure on the prime minister to avert a Commons revolt as the number of Tory MPs to back a rebel amendment doubled to 30.
May’s former deputy Damian Green and Johnny Mercer, who recently resigned as defence minister, also added their names to an amendment led by former international development secretary Andrew Mitchell.
Johnson has been criticised across the political spectrum for temporarily reducing foreign aid from 0.7% of national income to 0.5%, breaking a manifesto commitment.
Mitchell has tabled an amendment to the Advanced Research and Invention Agency (Aria) Bill, a piece of legislation that establishes a new “high-risk, high-reward” research agency backed with £800 million of taxpayers’ cash to explore new ideas.
The amendment, if selected by Commons speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle and approved by a majority of MPs, would force any shortfall of the 0.7% foreign aid spending target to be made up by Aria’s budget.
The government has blamed economic damage caused by the Covid-19 pandemic for its aid decision.
But critics in the aid sector have warned it will result in tens of thousands of deaths in other parts of the world.
Senior Conservatives to back the amendment include former health secretary Jeremy Hunt, ex-Brexit secretary David Davis and former Welsh secretary Stephen Crabb, as well as father of the House Sir Peter Bottomley.
Others include select committee chairs such as Caroline Nokes, Tom Tugendhat, Karen Bradley and Tobias Ellwood.
The amendment is also collecting support from the Labour benches, with signatories so far including International Development Committee chair Sarah Champion and Public Accounts Committee chair Meg Hillier.
The Bill returns to the Commons for further consideration on Monday.