'Grotesque inequalities' at home should take precedence over foreign aid spending, says levelling up advisor

Boris Johnson’s levelling up advisor has defended the cut to foreign aid spending, saying “grotesque inequalities” in this country need to take precedence.

Huddersfield-born Neil O’Brien spoke out in a House of Commons debate after the Government suspended its commitment to spend 0.7 per cent of national income on aid - even though it is enshrined in legislation.

And the Government’s refusal to sanction a Commons vote prompted Conservative rebels – including former prime minister Theresa May – to warn that its actions may be unlawful and could lead to hundreds of thousands of deaths.

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But Mr O’Brien told MPs: “There is the whole question of levelling up and the many things that we promised to do to change the grotesque inequalities in life expectancy and the grotesque differences in income levels and opportunity around this country.

Neil O'Brien is Boris Johnson's levelling up advisor

“We have many, many promises to keep. Over the last year, we have done unprecedented things to save jobs and livelihoods — we have spent like never before — and because of that, we now face some very difficult choices.

“I am not somebody who decries the value of aid. I can see that it does much good around the world, and we will continue to be one of the world’s biggest spenders. Nonetheless, I think that to be in government is to make choices. We face difficult choices, and we have many promises to keep on lots of fronts.”

The Harborough MP added: “Ultimately, all of us are elected to serve the people and to be servants of the people. It is clear to me from every poll I see and every conversation I have that the public know that we have to make choices.

“They know that we have to prioritise, and the things that they tell me they want to prioritise the most are our health service and giving opportunities and jobs to the places that need them.”

Earlier Andrew Mitchell, a former International Development Secretary, rejected claims that ‘red wall’ seats in the North were opposed to overseas aid.

“The Government think that it is popular in the red wall seats to stop British aid money going overseas. Indeed, one Treasury Minister told me that 81 per cent of people in the red wall seats do not approve of spending British taxpayers’ money overseas,” he said.

“But we have to be careful about the question we ask, because other polling in the red wall seats shows that 92 per cent of people there do not approve of cutting humanitarian aid.

“It is also a very patronising attitude to people who live in the red wall seats, because when these dreadful famines, disasters and floods take place, it is the people in the red wall seats who are the first to raise money through car boot sales and pub quizzes to try to help those who are caught.”