A Tory MP who voted for the overseas aid cuts despite leading a party campaign group “for international development” faces an attempt to topple him.
The move against ex-minister Mark Garnier comes after he was among about 20 MPs who switched sides at the last minute – handing victory to Boris Johnson in a crucial vote.
Angry fellow members of the Conservative Friends of International Development (CFID) are trying to force him out, under the hashtag #garniermustgo in WhatsApp messages seen by The Independent.
The bitter battle comes as the rebels insist the fight to halt the cuts is not over, with a legal challenge now being prepared by a charity set to lose £14m over three years.
Although the government won the Commons vote, it was on a motion – which means the law stipulating that 0.7 per cent of national income must be spent on aid still stands, it will argue.
Mr Garnier wrote an article vowing to rebel and saying he was “elected on a promise to uphold our aid commitment” – but then voted for the £4bn-a-year cuts which are now likely to be permanent.
The meeting of the CFID steering group, on Tuesday will also attempt to unseat Mr Garnier’s deputy, Theodora Clarke, who also defected from the rebels to the government side.
One group member said: “Conservative Friends of International Development has a proud history, but Garnier and Clarke have disgraced the organisation.
“With ‘friends’ like these who needs enemies? The only viable future for CFID is under new management. If they don’t do the decent thing and resign, they will undoubtedly be forced out.”
A second accused the pair of putting “ambition” before the “terrible impact of this”, adding: “Their constituents will undoubtedly remember.”
Aid has been slashed to 0.5 per cent of national income until two new tests are met; sustainable borrowing for day-to-day spending and falling underlying debt.
Most experts believe they will not be passed before the next election, scheduled for 2024, at which the Conservatives may drop the 0.7 per cent pledge anyway.
The vote on Tuesday, when only 24 of 45 expected Tories joined the revolt, triggered accusations of ministers having “blood on their hands”, with hundreds of thousands of people predicted to die.
It also has huge implications for Mr Johnson’s vow to spend billions to help poorer countries adapt to the climate emergency – because that will be swiped from the shrunken aid pot.
The International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF) is seeking a judicial review, arguing full legislation is needed to remove the legal commitment to the 0.7 per cent pledge.
If it goes ahead, and the government loses, the cuts would have to be reversed, or legislation brought forward – which could then see the cuts blocked in the House of Lords.
Mr Garnier, who achieved notoriety in 2017 when he admitted asking his secretary to buy sex toys, but was cleared of breaching standards rules, has been approached to respond to the criticism.