May 22, 2024

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Rishi Sunak pledged to increase UK defense spending to 2.5% of GDP by 2030.

Rishi Sunak pledged to increase UK defense spending to 2.5% of GDP by 2030.
  • Written by Paul Seddon
  • Politics reporter

Video explanation, Watch: The most dangerous world since the end of the Cold War, says Sunak

Rishi Sunak promised billions more for defense to counter threats from an “axis of authoritarian states”.

The Prime Minister said UK military spending would rise to 2.5% of national income by 2030, in a move that expands on a previous spending pledge.

He stressed that the UK was “not on the brink of war” but claimed that the extra money would put the country's defense industry “on the brink of war”.

Labor is also committed to the 2.5% target when economic conditions allow.

Labour's shadow defense secretary, John Healey, said the party “wants to see a fully funded plan” to reach that level, but said the Conservatives had “shown time and time again that they cannot be trusted on defence”.

He said Labor would review the resources of the armed forces within a year of taking office, if it wins the general election later this year.

In his defensive declaration during a visit to Poland, Sunak said that the United Kingdom faces the most dangerous international environment since the days of the Cold War between the West and the former Soviet Union.

However, he said investment was needed because the UK faces “an axis of authoritarian states with different values ​​to ours”, including Russia, Iran, North Korea and China.

He said that these countries are showing a “new determination” and are increasingly working together.

“Re-prioritize”

Downing Street says that under its plan, spending will gradually increase over the next six years to reach £87.1 billion by 2030 – £23 billion more than this year's budget.

When pressed on how the program would be funded, Sunak's spokeswoman told reporters £2.8bn would be saved by 2029 from plans to cut civil servants, and a previously announced £2bn increase in research spending.

A brief document provided to reporters alongside the plan said it would not lead to increased borrowing, but did not mention specific sources of additional revenue.

This implies that additional spending will come from cuts in departments with unprotected budgets, said Ben Zaranko, an economist at the Institute for Fiscal Studies, a think tank.

Former Defense Secretary Ben Wallace also said he believed the extra money would come from “reprioritizing the pie”.

Speaking on BBC Radio 4's PM programme, he said the Prime Minister had told him earlier that he had decided defense spending would be a priority, ahead of “some of the other commitments that we thought we might or might not do at the election”.

Sunak said his new 2.5% target could set a “new standard” for NATO, whose target of spending 2% of GDP on defense is now a decade old.

The UK spent 2.07% of GDP on defense last year. According to NATO dataBut it estimates it will spend 2.3% this year, including resources given to Ukraine.

Poland was NATO's biggest spender as a share of its economy, allocating 3.9% of GDP – more than double the amount it spent in 2022.

The United States came in second place, spending 3.5%, despite being the biggest spender overall.

The announcement comes after Mr Sunak confirmed the UK would provide an additional £500m to Ukraine this year, on top of the £2.5bn already allocated.

He added that the UK could continue to provide “at least the current level of military support to Ukraine every year it needs it.”

Pressure on spending

The government has been facing pressure to increase defense spending since the March budget, which did not allocate additional funds to the Ministry of Defence.

Conservative MPs are demanding more, while two ministers publicly urged him to increase spending last month.

The new commitment reflects that made by former Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who promised in 2022 to increase spending to 2.5% of GDP by the end of the decade.

Sunak did not repeat this target during his failed bid for the Conservative Party leadership that year, instead only committing to the 2% NATO threshold.

Until now, he has pledged to reach this level at an unspecified point in the future when economic conditions allow.

Last month, MPs on the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) warned that the government currently lacks a “credible plan” to fund the Ministry of Defence.

Last year, the National Audit Office (NAO) said the MoD faced a £16.9bn black hole in its finances, despite an injection of £46.3bn over the next 10 years.

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