Rishi Sunak has promised an extra £5 billion for the military over two years as the UK faces growing challenges posed by China and Russia.
The Prime Minister insisted the UK’s armed forces had the funding they needed for a “more volatile world”, 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 used for 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. Although officials said he was “delighted” with the settlement.
The promised funding will include 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.
Sunak told reporters the extra funding would take spending from 2% of GDP in 2020 to 2.25% in 2025.
‘Threats to our security have increased’
As the government sets out the 2023 integrated review refresh (IR23) on Monday (13 March), 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, 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 Defence Secretary has previously called for a 3% of GDP spending commitment. Former Prime Minister Liz Truss also promised this spending commitment 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.
‘Conservatives are still dragging their feets on big decisions’
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 will be formally launched with a Commons statement on Monday, updating the 2021 integrated review following the war in Ukraine and pressure from Tory MPs to take a tougher line on China.
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.”
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 also be doubled, boosting Mandarin language training and diplomatic skills.
A new national security college curriculum will boost expertise across government and the UK’s critical minerals strategy will be updated to ensure access to vital resources.
The BBC World Service will be given an additional £20 million to maintain 47 language services to help tackle disinformation from hostile states.