Home » UK to boost defence spending to 2.5% of GDP, Sunak says

UK to boost defence spending to 2.5% of GDP, Sunak says

Britain will boost its defence spending to 2.5% of national output by the end of the decade as Rishi Sunak pledged to put the UK’s arms industry on a “war footing” in response to global threats.

The prime minister’s plan, which he said would help the UK deal with an “increasingly dangerous” world, would steadily increase defence spending to £87bn a year by 2030.

It comes after months of pressure from Tory MPs, including the defence secretary, Grant Shapps, to increase military spending to help counter increasing dangers.

Sunak also committed to giving at least £3bn a year to Ukraine “for as long as required”, a key request from President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to provide more certainty in the face of Russian aggression.

However, in a sign the Tories will try to hold Labour’s feet to the fire over defence in the run-up to the general election, Sunak told reporters after his speech in Poland there would be a “choice on this topic” for voters.

Labour has not said it would match Sunak’s commitment, although the shadow cabinet minister Steve Reed told Sky News that Labour “would want to match that”.

Keir Starmer has previously said that Labour would raise defence spending to 2.5% of gross domestic product “as soon as resources allow” and has pledged to conduct a strategic defence and security review within 12 months of taking power.

Sunak may also be hoping his defence announcement will ease the pressure on his leadership from within the Tory party, with many MPs feeling despondent about their chances of retaining power and the local elections likely to be a moment of high peril for the prime minister.

His plans could also mollify his Tory rivals for the leadership after Penny Mordaunt, the Commons leader, said the government’s “first duty is to protect our nation” and Shapps pushed for more cash for the Ministry of Defence amid growing concerns over military spending.

The military commitment, described by Sunak as the “biggest strengthening of our national defence in a generation”, means the UK would spend a cumulative £75bn extra on core defence funding over the next six years.

In a speech in Warsaw alongside the Nato secretary general, Jens Stoltenberg, Sunak said Europe was at a turning point as he urged allies to step up to match the commitment of the UK, which will become the second largest contributor to Nato after the United States.

“In a world that is the most dangerous it has been since the end of the cold war, we cannot be complacent. As our adversaries align, we must do more to defend our country, our interests, and our values,” he said.

“Today is a turning point for European security and a landmark moment in the defence of the United Kingdom. It is a generational investment in British security and British prosperity, which makes us safer at home and stronger abroad.”

The prime minister said he would put the UK defence industry on a “war footing”, with £10bn invested in munitions production, as Ukraine showed that countries needed “deeper stockpiles” of weapons.

However, he added: “We must not overstate the danger. We’re not on the brink of war. And nor do we seek it.”

UK Nato defence spending graphic

Sunak said the plan was fully funded, moving from an aspiration to spend 2.5% by an unspecified date, when the economic circumstances allowed, to a costed commitment to do so in 2030. The UK currently spends 2.32% of GDP on defence.

However, the spending would not involve any increase in borrowing or debt, Sunak said, implying that it could be partly funded from deeper spending cuts elsewhere.

Documents showed the policy would cost £4.5bn a year by 2027-28, paid for by returns on an increased investment in research and development, and £2.9bn by cutting 70,000 civil service jobs.

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Boris Johnson pledged at a Nato summit in June 2022 to increase UK military spending to 2.5% of GDP by 2030 as part of a strengthening of Nato defences in response to the threat from Russia. But Sunak subsequently did not restate this commitment, instead only committing to the 2% Nato minimum.

Last month, Sunak faced calls from three former defence secretaries – Michael Fallon, Gavin Williamson and Ben Wallace – to pledge an increase to 3% of GDP on the armed forces in the Tory election manifesto.

The funding would also help equip the west to stand up to autocratic states such as Russia, Iran and China, which Sunak said were working together to undermine democracies.

It also includes further pledges to reform defence procurement and the creation of a new defence innovation agency with at least 5% of the defence budget to be committed to research and development.

It covers an additional £500m in military funding for Ukraine from Treasury reserves, which was announced by Sunak before the trip, and takes the total to £3bn this financial year.

Earlier, the prime minister appointed Gen Gwyn Jenkins, a former special forces commander who is the vice-chief of the defence staff, as his new national security adviser.

He will be the first armed forces veteran to serve in the role and replaces Tim Barrow, who is expected to become the next UK ambassador to Washington at the end of this year.

Labour has warned it could reverse Barrow’s appointment if it wins the election, arguing that the next UK government should decide who takes on Britain’s most senior diplomatic posting.

The prime minister welcomed the decision by the US Congress, after months of stalling, to approve a $61bn package of new military aid for Ukraine.

But he added: “That doesn’t take away from the need for Europeans to invest in their security. I am very proud that the UK has always led in that regard.”

Sunak will fly on to Germany, his first visit as prime minister, where he will meet the German chancellor, Olaf Scholz, who has just announced his country will finally meet the Nato target for members to spend 2% of GDP on defence. Germany’s weapons commitments to help Ukraine defend itself against Russia are now almost twice the size of Britain’s.

The UK and Germany will announce plans to jointly develop remote-controlled howitzer artillery systems, a programme which they say will create hundreds of jobs across the two countries.