Scots Tory breaks with Ruth Davidson to back cut to aid budget

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One of Ruth Davidson’s MPs has broken with the Scottish Tory leader to back calls for foreign aid to be cut and reinvested in public services in the UK.

Bill Grant threw his support behind leadership hopeful Esther McVey’s Blue Collar Conservative campaign, which she launched with a call to return the international aid budget to 2010 levels and invest more in policing and education.

Ruth Davidson on a 2018 visit to see the work of Scottish landmine clearing charity the Halo Trust

Ruth Davidson on a 2018 visit to see the work of Scottish landmine clearing charity the Halo Trust

In February last year, after travelling to Afghanistan to see the work of Scottish charity Halo Trust, which clears landmines from conflict zones, Ms Davidson defended the policy of spending 0.7% of GDP on international aid - a target set by David Cameron.

READ MORE: Ruth Davidson's 2018 column on "the Scots restoring our faith in charity"

Ms McVey claimed reducing international aid spending to levels seen under the last Labour government would release £7bn worth of investment, although this would represent nearly halving the £14.5bn aid budget.

“This is the real story of what aid money can achieve. It is changing lives, and the world, for the better,” Ms Davidson said following her visit to Kabul.

“The UK government has recognised the importance of this work and how vital it is in helping some of the poorest and most unstable countries in the world to develop and become safer, more prosperous places.

“This means they can recover to the point where they no longer need help from the international community.”

But Mr Grant said he believed the government could “achieve the same outcomes with less”, adding that he was “happy to talk to Ruth about that”.

“I’m part of a campaign that’s looking to source money to improve the wellbeing of individuals of people living here in the UK,” Mr Grant said. “Whether we nip something out of that till or another till, we need to find the resource somewhere.”

He added: “To help people in my community, and in the United Kingdom - I think that would be high on the list of most people’s aspirations.”

The Department for International Development employs around 900 staff at its operational headquarters in East Kilbride. Mr Grant said cuts to the aid budget could be carried out without losing jobs in the UK.

The Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock MP said he was not committed to supporting Ms McVey in the upcoming Tory leadership race. “It’s like at Ayr Racecourse - before I place my bets I need to know who all the runners and riders are, so I’ll apply the same theory to the leadership.”

READ MORE: How Ruth Davidson defended the 0.7% aid target to Conservative members
Aberdeen South MP Ross Thomson has also offered his support to the Blue Collar Conservatism campaign.

Calling for aid money to be spent at home, Ms McVey said: “By doing this we will be doing more than just making up for shortfalls here and there - we will be providing transformative funds which communities will feel.”

The former Work and Pensions Secretary said that as well as delivering Brexit, her party “must be prepared to have a radical Conservative agenda to show that we are on their side.”