Writing exclusively for the Evening Standard, the former Brexit Secretary, who is a leading hawk against wasteful spending, says it would be “illogical and immoral” to slash the aid budget and that it would backfire.
“Cutting aid now is an idea that makes no sense to my heart or my mind,” he writes.
Chancellor Rishi Sunak announced plans to slash the overseas development budget by £4 billion, breaking Britain’s legal commitment to invest 0.7 per cent of GDP on aid, in last week’s spending review.
It was met by a chorus of disapproval from Opposition parties and Tory liberals. But former soldier Mr Davis is a big name on the Conservative right wing, indicating that the revolt is spreading.
In his hard-hitting article, he quotes defence experts on the value of aid for curbing conflicts and preventing streams of refugees.
He argues that the spending will pay dividends long term as countries like Africa develop into major markets for UK goods. And he also warns of diminished British influence if the cut goes through, with “assertive” China gaining sway.
Speaking to the Standard, Mr Davis predicted the aid revolt could be more damaging than Tuesday night’s rebellion, the biggest under Mr Johnson, when 55 Conservative MPs voted against Covid restrictions.
“I think you will find there are others like me who take our moral position seriously and who are interested in seeing Britain cut a new figure in the world,” Mr Davis said.
“The Prime Minister may decide on reflection not to push this. I hope so. But if he does push it, you will not see opposition parties stay out of the vote as they did on Tuesday night, they will all be voting against the Government.
“Essentially, Tuesday night’s vote was symbolic. But on aid spending the vote would be for real. And there would be a real risk of the Government being defeated.”
Senior Tories said the emergence of Mr Davis raised the prospect of more right wingers uniting with the party’s liberal wing to defeat the Government. A former chairman of the powerful Public Accounts Committee, Mr Davis was a hawk on waste and previously hit out at David Cameron for increasing aid spending too quickly.
Andrew Mitchell, the former International Development Secretary, said: “The fact that people of David Davis’s experience and beliefs share the views of One Nation Tories shows that the Government will be facing sustained and broad-based opposition to this pernicious and mean-spirited measure.”
Baroness Liz Sugg, the former overseas development minister who resigned in protest at Mr Sunak’s announcement, said: “This shows that keeping our promise has support from across the Conservative Parliamentary Party.
“I hope the Government reconsiders this decision which, in the midst of a global pandemic, will undoubtedly cause preventable deaths.”
Sir Bob Neill, chair of the Justice Select Committee, said: “It shows that it is not just the ‘usual suspects’ at the liberal end of the party. This concern goes wider than that and it is perhaps something the Government has under estimated.”
Damian Green, the chair of the One Nation Caucus, the biggest Tory grouping with over 100 MPs, including dozens of ministers, said: “It says so much about the modern Conservative Party that we want to meet our international obligations at the same time as promote the interests of Global Britain.”
Senior MPs believe that Tuesday’s rebellion will have “blooded” backbenchers and made them more likely to rebel in future. It is the first time that two major rebellions are being masterminded by former Tory Chief Whips: Mark Harper, who kept rebel numbers on Tuesday night, and Andrew Mitchell who is organising critics of the aid cut.
Although Government sources have argued that the cut to aid can be carried out without a vote in the Commons or the Lords, Parliamentary experts believe that any cut in aid below 0.7 per cent of GDP will require legislation if it is intentional rather than a one-off accident, and more so if it is intended to last for several years. Legislation could be introduced in spring but it would mean divisions in the Commons and the House of Lords.
In his speech, Mr Sunak claimed it was hard to "justify" the aid budget with the UK facing record borrowing. Cutting the budget to 0.5 per cent of GDP will save around £4 billion, matching the cost of a new fund for northern towns where many Tory marginal seats are located.
The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, called it "shameful and wrong", while ex-PM David Cameron branded it “sad”. Oxfam said it would “lead to tens of thousands of otherwise preventable deaths".