Experts want clear timeframe over Keir Starmer’s pledge to increase defence spending | UK News

Initial noises by the new government on defence have stirred fears among experts that repairing the UK’s war-fighting prowess is not a burning priority despite mounting threats.

Sir Keir Starmer used a trip to Washington for a major NATO summit this week to declare a “cast iron” commitment to increase spending on the armed forces to 2.5% of national income, from just over 2% – but without setting a clear timeframe, which immediately makes the promise look weak to allies and foes.

The government also revealed that a strategic defence review will be launched next week – but ministers could not say when that would be concluded either, other than “within the next year”.

It means any certainty on the size, shape and budget of the armed forces – hollowed out by decades of cuts under previous Conservative and Labour administrations – will not materialise until next summer even though the problems plaguing defence are well known.

At the same time, Mr Starmer will be pressuring other European allies to spend more on their militaries as NATO countries in Europe adapt to be less reliant on the US – a shift that will become more urgent if Donald Trump is re-elected to the White House.

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“It’s contradictory,” a defence source said of the prime minister’s position on defence.

“The government will ask NATO members to spend 2.5% but will claim it won’t do that itself until fiscal rules allow. To be honest, I’m confused.”

John Healey, the new defence secretary, has spent the past four years preparing for the job and is very well informed about the challenges and complexities involved in rebuilding the armed forces and also securing much better value for money from the defence budget.

It means he will surely have ideas already about what the outcome of the review will be. He will also know that – without swift, significant investment – difficult decisions will have to be made to cut programmes that currently are not funded.

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Defence spending review will be conducted ‘within a year’

Mr Healey will be overseeing the defence review – a return to how this body of work used to be delivered when George Robertson was defence secretary in the 1990s.

By contrast, under successive Tory governments, these kind of assessments were renamed and widened into a strategic defence and security review and then an integrated review, headed by the Cabinet Office that covered a much wider remit of foreign policy as well as security and also areas such as science and technology.

Returning the running of this new review to the bowels of the Ministry of Defence will allow the armed forces and defence civil servants to have a lot more control over the narrative and the conclusions.

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But at the same time, it risks being far too limited in its remit to ensure the UK is prepared for war.

A future war would be an all-of-nation effort requiring all departments of state to be prepared to play their part – something that they have not had to consider since the Cold War years.

In a statement released as part of the defence announcements on Wednesday, Mr Healey said: “Our government’s first duty is to keep the country safe.

“That’s why we will increase defence spending and launch a strategic defence review to ensure we have the capabilities needed to protect the UK now and in the future.

“The review will also set out defence reforms to secure faster procurement and better value for money.”

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