Rishi Sunak insisted the UK’s armed forces had the funding they needed for a “more volatile world” in the face of the growing challenges posed by China and Russia.
The Prime Minister promised an extra £5 billion for the military over two years, but failed to meet Tory demands to commit to a goal of spending 3% of the UK’s gross domestic product (GDP) on defence.
Significant sums of the promised new money will be swallowed up by replenishing ammunition stockpiles handed to Ukraine and work on the Aukus project to develop nuclear-powered submarines for Australia.
That short-term funding is only around half of what Defence Secretary Ben Wallace had reportedly demanded as the military budgets are squeezed by the impact of Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine and high inflation, although officials said he was “delighted” with the settlement.
As the Government sets out the 2023 integrated review refresh (IR23) on Monday, Mr Sunak is visiting San Diego, California, for talks with Aukus allies US President Joe Biden and Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese.
Speaking on the USS Midway museum ship in the Californian port, Mr Sunak said: “It’s clear that the world has become more volatile, the threats to our security have increased.
“And that’s why we’re investing £5 billion more in our world-beating armed forces over the next two years and increasing our defence spending to 2.5% of GDP so we can continue to be a world leader when it comes to defence and keeping our country safe.”
The promised funding will see an extra £1.98 billion this year and £2.97 billion next year for defence.
Some £3 billion will be invested in defence nuclear enterprises, including supporting the Aukus project, while £1.9 billion will replenish and bolster munitions stockpiles.
Mr Sunak told reporters the extra funding would take spending from 2% of GDP in 2020 to 2.25% in 2025.
“At that point, we will set out the trajectory for the next phase,” he said, with an ambition of reaching 2.5%.
The Defence Secretary has previously called for a 3% of GDP spending commitment, something that ex-prime minister Liz Truss had promised by the end of the decade during her short-lived premiership.
The UK was already on a trajectory to reach 2.5% by the end of the decade under plans set out while Boris Johnson was in No 10.
Labour accused the Tories of failing to secure Britain’s national defence for the future.
Shadow defence secretary John Healey said: “When 25 other Nato nations have already rebooted defence plans and spending since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the Conservatives are still dragging their feet on the big decisions.”
The IR23 document, which will be formally launched with a Commons statement on Monday, updates the 2021 integrated review following the war in Ukraine and pressure from Tory MPs to take a tougher line on China.
Mr Sunak acknowledged the Chinese Communist Party’s military, financial and diplomatic activity represented an “epoch-defining challenge”.
The Prime Minister, who described China as the biggest long-term threat facing the UK during his leadership bid last year, said: “It’s a regime that is increasingly authoritarian at home and assertive abroad, and has a desire to reshape the world order.”
Meanwhile in an interview with NBC News’ Lester Holt, Mr Sunak said: “The behaviour that we’ve seen in China over recent times is concerning.”
Mr Sunak added: “China represents the biggest state threat to our economic interests, for sure. And it’s a systemic challenge for the world order.”
Speaking about Western military aid for Ukraine, he said: “I think it’s important right now that we accelerate and intensify our support to Ukraine.”
From Monday, a new National Protective Security Authority within MI5 will give expert advice to UK businesses and other organisations on how to counter foreign spies.
Funding for the Government-wide China capabilities programme will be doubled, boosting Mandarin language training and diplomatic skills.
A new national security college curriculum will boost expertise across government while a £1 billion integrated security fund will replace an existing scheme to focus on the priorities in the integrated review.
The UK’s critical minerals strategy will be updated to ensure access to vital resources while the BBC World Service will be given an additional £20 million to maintain 47 language services to help tackle disinformation from hostile states.
Published: 13/03/2023 by Radio NewsHub